Seattle's 'microtransit' experiment drives people to light rail. Is it working? - Crosscut

August 27, 2019

Four months in, ridership on the $3.2M Via service is reportedly exceeding expectations.

 

If you’ve ridden light rail in the Rainier Valley in the past few months you’ve no doubt seen them: black vans with a blue Seattle skyline painted on the sides.

 

Called Via to Transit, the vans look like they could be an Uber spinoff. In fact, passengers dial up the rides through an app similar to any ride hailing service. But as the King County Metro Transit logo emblazoned on the door indicates, the vans are part of a county-run experiment with on-demand “microtransit.”

 

Launched in April, the service connects transit riders with light rail and bus lines. Southeast Seattle has little east-west bus service, which makes it difficult for people to reach the north-south-running light rail line by bus.

 

“We’re making it easier for people to access light rail and our buses,” said Casey Gifford, Metro’s Via project manager. “It is also about broadening access to [ride hailing] for populations that haven’t generally been able to access them.”

 

Via is a private company contracted by Metro to provide the vans, drivers and technology. The $3.2 million, year-long operation is funded by $2.7 million from Seattle’s transportation benefits district levy, a $350,000 Federal Transit Administration grant and $100,000 each from Metro and Sound Transit. Four months into the pilot project, Metro has collected enough data to get a sense of whether the subsidized rideshare is working.


It’s far too early for the agency to declare victory, but so far, the service has exceeded Metro’s daily ridership goals and served up more than 70,000 total rides.

 

Via users order a ride through the app or by calling a service center at 206-258-7739. Users connect with a driver and are usually directed to walk a few blocks for pickup. All rides on Via have the potential to be shared rides, similar to UberPool or Lyft Shared, so the app tries to route the driver on the straightest line between pickups and final destinations.

 

Rides cost the same as taking the bus: $2.75 for adults, $1.50 for low-income riders with ORCA Lift cards. Rides are paid for with ORCA cards or the Transit GO Ticket app. Users can also preload ORCA cards in advance with cash — an effort to increase access for people without smartphones and banks — but the drivers cannot accept cash. Via has 18 vans in its fleet, some of which are wheelchair accessible.


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