Researchers from the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) recently conducted a study on Google’s free, on-demand microtransit pilot program for potential benefits, including cost savings and decreased congestion and emissions.
In fall 2019, Google partnered with Via to launch an on-demand microtransit service called Via2G. The pilot provided employees with free travel to/from two of its offices in suburban, congested Silicon Valley between January 1, and March 5, 2020, before it was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Via2G services were rolled out gradually across seven zones in Sunnyvale and Mountain View. Rides were available for free to employees from 7am to 10am and from 4pm to 7pm Monday through Friday. During pilot hours, users could request a ride between either campus or anywhere in the pilot zone.
In MTI’s study, “Via2G Microtransit Program Evaluation,” researchers analyzed two data sources: first, survey data about Google employee commute patterns; and second, Via trip data for each trip taken during the first three months of the pilot (between Jan. 1 and March 5). The program evaluation revealed that:
- The large majority (92%) of surveyed employees (n=2,306) expressed interest in participating in the Via2G pilot.
- In sum, 595 employees completed 7,537 rides between January 1 and March 5, 2020. The average trip distance was 3.4 miles, average wait time about 11 minutes, and average trip duration was 18 minutes.
- While the pilot was cut short due to COVID-19, it grew steadily during operation. The average number of riders per day grew from 79 riders in January to 123 and 121 riders per day in February and March, respectively.
- Of total trip requests, 87.8% resulted in a ride offer, 76.6% resulted in a completed trip. Most unfulfilled requests were outside of pilot operating times; other unmet ride requests were likely because demand exceeded supply when the requests were made.
“Prior to the Via2G pilot program, two-thirds (66%) of survey respondents drove to work at least one day per week, while a plurality (42%) drove five days per week,” authors of the evaluation said. “Compared to employees who did not participate in the pilot, pilot users were more likely to take shared ride-hail (14% versus 22%) or the Google Bus (24% versus 30%) at least once a week.”
Based on these findings, researchers provided in the evaluation several recommendations to future employer-based microtransit programs aimed at reducing solo driving:
- Provide more flexible service hours adjusted to context-specific traveler needs.
- Seek to better understand the travel needs of employees who trip chain on their commutes.
- Examine ways to minimize deadheading and increase the vehicle occupancy.
- Monitor patterns and create context-sensitive performance indicators that can evaluate shifting priorities for commuting in a post-pandemic world.