Mobility-on-demand Versus Fixed-route Transit Systems: An Evaluation Of Traveler Preferences In Low-income Communities

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March 2019

By: Tawanna R. Dillahunt and Xiang ‘Jacob’ Yan

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Transportation innovations such as ride-hailing and autonomous vehicles are transforming public transit and disrupting the transportation sector. This presents opportunities to integrate these new ridesharing services with fixed-route public transit services that run along major corridors. This integration brings the promise of affordable and convenient public transit services to areas that were previously unreachable, which could lead to significant benefits for people in disadvantaged communities. These benefits include enhanced “last-mile” access to transit services (less walking to transit stops), a known deterrent to public transit use, and reduced wait time and total travel times. Additional benefits include access to employment opportunities, reduced greenhouse emissions, and increased access to healthcare, and healthy food. However, it is unclear how local travelers, particularly those who are disadvantaged in some way, would respond to a shift from a conventional fixed-route service model to an integrated mobility-on-demand transit system; this policy brief reports initial insights to answer this question.

The brief presents the results of a web-based survey conducted among 900 individuals living in Detroit (N=443) and Ypsilanti (N=457), Michigan. Data for this brief are for those policymakers and stakeholders who are responsible for guiding the implementation of future mobility-on-demand transit services.

The research team conducted a web-based Qualtrics survey in the City of Detroit, the City of Ypsilanti, and Ypsilanti Township from July to November 2018. Advertisements for the survey were conducted both offline and online using postal mail, flyers, postings on Nextdoor, and local neighborhood newsletters. On-site recruitment at several public libraries and Detroit-based non-profit organizations was conducted to include individuals who did not have access to digital devices and those who were uncomfortable with them.

The survey requested information such as the perception of and use of local public transit and ride-hailing services (Uber/Lyft), demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, and home address. The survey also requested respondents’ preferences for a proposed mobility-on-demand (MOD) transit system (which was named RITMO) versus the current fixed-route system and the potential constraints to adopting MOD services such as not having specific access to technology devices, bank accounts, or Internet access, and disability. Finally, the survey asked respondents to list the potential benefits and drawbacks associated with the RITMO system and which ones mattered to them.

Disadvantaged travelers were defined as individuals with a household income of less than $25,000, who are 60 years or older, who do not own a car, or who have a disability. Overall, there were 443 Detroit respondents and 457 Ypsilanti respondents resulting in a total of 900 survey responses. When comparing the resulting samples with the American Community Survey 2013-2017 5-year estimates, college graduates, men, non-black populations, and transit riders were overly represented in both Detroit and Ypsilanti samples. Ypsilanti samples contained too few low-income household responses (<$25,000) and responses from individuals who were older than 60 years, black/African American, or had a disability. Future Ypsilanti research surveys should devote more effort into recruiting from these missing population segments.

Please download the printable version (Adobe PDF) for the full content of the policy brief