Technology has evolved in such a way that the entire world is at our fingertips. From ordering a pizza to buying a car, the world is just a click away. This has even permeated the mobility world, with ride-sharing services like Uber paving the way for one-click transportation. In fact, an increasing number of transit agencies are turning to Uber as a cure-all for tight budgets. At the same time, however, the demand-response, ride-hailing technology that makes Uber possible is becoming increasingly available to the wider transportation industry.
In the hands of transportation providers, this technology is infinitely powerful as it allows agencies, universities and businesses to do more with less, and to provide a better user experience for riders. How? By turning existing services — agency fixed and paratransit routes, corporate shuttles and university safe ride programs — into demand-response offerings by simply installing a tablet.
A common use-case for demand-response technology can be found on university campuses, where administrators want to ensure that students can get home safely late at night.
It’s a familiar scenario to any college student out late or in an unfamiliar area. They feel stranded, and are unsure of how to get home safely after a long night at the library or out with friends.
Many campuses have implemented Safe Ride programs to provide students a way to safely get where they need to go in the wee hours of the morning. Typically, these programs provide students with a reliable source of on-demand transit when other campus transportation has shut down. These rides are provided by the university. These programs share a common goal: fill a gap in campus transit and assuage the fears of students (and their parents) about getting home late at night.
To ensure these systems are working as efficiently and are as accessible as possible, an increasing number of college administrators are turning to apps and software platforms to help run these services. For administrators, this means that they are able to see, in real-time, where their vehicles are, as well as when and where demand is spiking. University administrators can use the constant flow of data from these software platforms to make informed decisions about, for example, increasing the number of campus vehicles on the roads at certain hours or re-routing existing transit through different parts of campus. This not only helps lower operational costs, but also helps boost service — increasing the number of students picked up and decreasing the number of empty vehicles on the road at a time.
For students, this means they simply need to input their current location and desired destination into an app on their phone, and wait for a university Safe Ride vehicle to appear. Apps can give students constant feedback on where the driver is and how long their wait time will be. This not only reassures students who may be waiting in the dark, but also increases the chances that they will still be waiting for the ride when it arrives.
Apps that let students request a campus bus with Uber-like convenience can revolutionize campus transit, giving administrators vital information about where and when rides are most needed. This data helps Safe Ride programs cut down on wait times; maximize the efficiency of existing vehicles and lower operational costs.
A recent New York Times article preparing the parents and students of the Class of 2020 for their first day of freshman year recommended equipping first-year college students with Uber and Lyft accounts. While this may be a solution for students in areas where ride-sharing services operate, campuses are increasingly looking to replicate these services with a free and more regulated, university-controlled version.
While Safe Rides are solving the problems of getting home safely and maximizing transit efficiency for universities, the on-demand model can provide the same benefits to municipal transportation planners. The same concerns of a university administrator — operational efficiency, user engagement, cost, and fixed-route use — are shared by the municipal transportation planner. And, much like a university Safe Ride program, a transit agency’s fixed-route services can be made more efficient and cost-effective with demand-response transportation while remaining attuned to the needs of the rider.
Introducing a rider-facing on-demand app to provide campus transportation managers with more data can be a game-changer. It helps provide a safer, more trustworthy way for students to get home late at night, and a more efficient, data-driven solution for administrators.
Changing the game for late-night on campus transit with data and on-demand rides can help universities align mobility, safety and efficiency, ultimately cultivating a safer environment for their students.
Doug Kaufman is CEO of TransLoc, a company taking public transit from last resort for some to first choice for all with innovative technology. Learn more at www.transloc.com.