Unique solutions replace frequency vs. coverage debate

Posted on September 11, 2019 by Mark R. Aesch - Also by this author

Sarasota, Fla.’s County Board of Commissioners to investigate more innovative options for the community’s transit service — SCAT.
Sarasota, Fla.’s County Board of Commissioners to investigate more innovative options for the community’s transit service — SCAT.

By far the most common topic on meeting agendas and discussed at workshops and conferences this year has been centered around mobility. After all these conversations, I’ve discovered that mobility means something different to different people, even within our industry.  

For some, mobility planning is limited to frequency vs. coverage. The way I see it, that’s the same as asking if you want an ice cream shop in your town to serve you faster or if you would you like them in more locations. The thing is, sometimes you don’t want ice cream at all. What you really want is a burger.

For too long the transit industry has driven 40-foot buses around worn routes hoping people will get on. Empty buses and over-subsidized costs to keep them running are like charging higher prices at the ice cream shop for flavors no one wants. Some argue it’s what we’ve always done. Our customers have to take what we’re selling. Not anymore.

Review costs, productivity
In Sarasota, Florida, we recently worked with the County Board of Commissioners to investigate more innovative options for the community’s transit service — SCAT — to deliver high-quality service to customers in a way that is sustainable for Sarasota County’s taxpayers.

We conducted a review of costs and productivity for every route by time of day to assess the level of county subsidy that the route required, identify patterns in unproductive service, and to benchmark against peer agencies. We also conducted case study research on the various models and results to-date of innovative mobility solutions, ranging from fully-subsidized partnerships with TNCs like Uber and Lyft to comprehensive and seamless multimodal planning tools (TARC’s new mobility app).

Along with data-driven analysis and recommendations, we illustrated the potential impacts of alternative mobility solutions through easy-to-understand customer journeys contrasting the time and cost it would take for a customer to make a particular trip using the system today with what that same trip could look like in the future.  

SCAT now has a framework for realizing more than $2 million in annual cost savings while serving more customers. The ice cream menu can now be expanded to include other options.

The right ‘ice cream’
We recently saw a news story out of Innisfil, Ontario, Canada where the municipal leaders agreed to subsidize Uber to meet the transit needs of Innisfil citizens. Uber is the right "ice cream" in that community.

To suggest, as some have, that no way is there a relationship between TNCs and transit is short-sighted and void of understanding consumer interests.

If we’re truly going to offer mobility, we need to service ice cream, french fries, and a burger. And if someone asks for it, let them put cheese on it too. That’s what mobility is: offering unique options in a cost-effective way that matches consumer demand. Rather than offering just ice cream because that’s what we’ve always dished up.

Mark R. Aesch (@MarkAesch) is CEO of TransPro Consulting.

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