Charlotte will pilot Uber-like public transit service in University, North End, airport areas

Charlotte will pilot Uber-like public transit service in University, North End, airport areas
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Charlotte Area Transit System is trialing on-demand microtransit in five zones next year as one solution to service shortfalls.

  • Those in need of a ride on the outskirts of the center city will soon be able to hail one on the spot in certain areas.

    What’s happening: CATS is pushing out the pilot faster than anticipated because of its ongoing driver shortages, the agency’s planning director Jason Lawrence told Axios.

    • It’s also trying to catch up with other transit agencies that have already implemented microtransit. In North Carolina, it is offered in Durham, Wilmington and Wilson.

    How it works: Similar to Uber or Lyft, passengers can use an app to request pick up and drop off to either another transit line or a destination. CATS will partner with a to-be-selected company to supply the drivers and fleet.

    • For example, a rider getting off the Blue Line at Parkwood station could order a microtransit trip to reach Camp North End.

    Why it matters: Especially as housing prices rise near the light rail, people who need public transit most are being priced out of most transit-accessible areas.

    • Plus, CATS could “turn on” microtransit as a temporary option in certain areas when it’s in a bind.
    • For instance, if Route 17 misses a trip, CATS could enable microtransit within a half mile of the trip; customers could hail a ride through the CATS-Pass app from Charlotte Transportation Center, where the route originates, all the way to Matthews, where the route typically ends, or to any other stops along the way, such as Plaza Midwood.

    What they’re saying: “It’s a more flexible service that is appropriate for areas that can’t support … (a) 40-foot bus (with) 30-some-odd seats on it,” Lawrence said, “whereas (with) microtransit, it’s a smaller vehicle. It’s more about right-sizing services to the ridership.”

    Details: To start, CATS will focus on five zones with 30-plus minute bus wait times: the University area, Hidden Valley, Camp North End, Pine Valley and Carolina Place area and the airport vicinity.

    • In a later phase, it expects to replace routes in the north with microtransit, including several Village Riders and the Route 290 Davidson shuttle.
    • During these first two phases, the cost of a ride will be the same as a local fare: $2.20.

    Timeline: CATS is collecting public feedback this fall. It will implement microtransit with the help of a third-party provider sometime in 2023.

    Flashback: Federal Transit Administration awarded Charlotte $750,000 to develop its microtransit implementation strategy over the summer. Lawrence said the money will go toward planning the citywide rollout of microtransit after the two pilot phases.

    • During planning, CATS will determine the needed size of the microtransit fleet, whether it consists of electric vehicles and the long-term fares.

      Yes, but: Providing on-demand service, typically accessed through a smartphone, raises questions about equity. Lawrence said CATS would consider a call center and is also looking at how other cities have bridged the digital divide.

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