Calif.’s Livermore Amador Valley Transit Authority (LAVTA) approved major changes to its Wheels public transit system, providing more frequent buses and new routes in Livermore, Dublin and Pleasanton. The agency also introduced two innovations: partnering with transportation network companies (TNCs), such as Uber and Lyft, to reach commuters in neighborhoods big buses cannot serve, and exploring driverless shuttles to solve first and last mile issues to connect people to stations.
“These changes feature a dramatic new way of thinking about mass transit,” says Wheels Board Chair Don Biddle. “With these improvements, an additional 6,000 households and 5,000 employees will be within an easy five-minute walk of high-quality, frequent bus service, while areas that cannot support big buses will be served with innovative partnerships and ultimately driverless shuttles. These changes will be a significant catalyst for residents to explore their transportation options.”
To create an easier-to-use, more productive transit system, LAVTA embarked on a year-long planning effort with the Tri-Valley communities. Called Wheels Forward, the planning effort was led by Nelson\Nygaard, an international transportation planning firm. By focusing on making it easier and more convenient for riders, the team restructured Wheels bus service to provide more direct routes to key destinations with buses arriving more often. A major improvement is the addition of the agency’s second route with 15-minute all-day bus frequency that will receive signal priority at intersections for quicker service.
According to Wheels Executive Director Michael Tree, the bus route improvements were designed without an increase to the agency’s budget, which meant trade-offs had to be made, including the elimination of bus service in areas that could not support fixed-route service. In all, almost every route had changes and six bus routes were eliminated in the system redesign.
Other Wheels improvements approved for fiscal year 2017 include the addition of Wi-Fi to Rapid and express buses, the implementation of individualized marketing in target areas of the transit system, the development of a new phone app and website to include integration with TNCs, and a rebranding of Wheels services.
To serve lower-density suburban neighborhoods, LAVTA will test ridesharing service. Customers will receive a discounted rate when they take advantage of Uber, Lyft, or a taxi participating with the transit agency within the project areas.
The LAVTA Board also approved and directed staff to seek partners and funding for a near-future driverless shuttle demonstration project in the City of Dublin, which would continue to advance the agency’s focus on improving first and last mile solutions to access public transit.