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Data proves microtransit won’t cannibalize traditional public transit. Here’s why.

  •   3 min read

Recent data reveals microtransit isn’t poaching passengers from fixed routes, but rather increasing ridership for all modes of shared mass transit.

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Some of microtransit’s biggest critics like to argue that it’s clearly not the large-scale substitute for bus service that much media coverage makes it out to be.” The thing is, we agree. 

In order to achieve transit equity, drastically reduce carbon emissions, and keep cities of all sizes running efficiently, microtransit must complement and adapt to busy buses and trains — modes of transportation that have been tried and tested around the world. And data shows that shared, on-demand services accomplish these goals, by drawing people away from private vehicles (not from existing public transit) even where the two options overlap. 

Well, you can’t replace what was never there.

Two of on-demand transit’s most promising applications actually help fixed-route networks (i.e. buses and train lines) succeed:

  1. Providing a first-and-last mile solution for those needing to get to and from mass transit hubs. 
  2. Offering shared transportation in transit deserts. 

In California, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) launched a service aimed at socioeconomically-disadvantaged residents with limited mobility options in their neighborhoods. The service operates in the areas of North Hollywood, El Monte, and Compton, taking riders to and from local Metro stations. According to a 2020 LA Metro report, this use case directly increases transit ridership and decreases the use of transportation network companies (TNCs) and other single-occupancy vehicle (SOV) options.

The interactive map above shows every ride that started or ended at North Hollywood, El Monte, and Artesia (Compton) metro stations, from January to mid-August 2020.

Beyond providing thousands of residents newfound access to high-quality transportation, LA Metro’s report shows that the city’s on-demand service has replaced more than 46,000 SOVs or TNC trips and brought 7,000 new rides to transit — in just one year.

For those in Sydney, Australia’s western suburbs, a partnership between Transport for New South Wales and Busways generated Cooee Busways, an on-demand shared service connecting residents of The Ponds, Schofields and Kellyville Ridge to a number of surrounding Sydney Metro stations.

The interactive map above shows every ride that started or ended at Rouse Hill, Schofields, and Tallawong stations, from January to mid-August 2020.

Before launching, Cooee Busways conducted commuter surveys in 2017 and 2018, which revealed that a whopping 83% of commuters arrived at the Schofields station by car in trips that were overwhelmingly single-purpose, with no other destinations beyond the Metro station. In fact, before the on-demand service even launched, 32% of those surveyed said they would replace their car use if a microtransit service became available and 49% said they primarily owned a vehicle for the purpose of traveling to the station. And now? According to a 2020 analysis by Busways, after only nine months of service, 34% of people holding onto private vehicles for these first-and-last mile trips alone have either already sold or are considering selling their car.

Meeting SOV and TNC riders where they are.

Even where on-demand and legacy mass transportation services coexist, data shows that dynamic transit isn’t poaching passengers from efficient fixed routes and putting them in smaller, on-demand vehicles. On the contrary, on-demand attracts a brand-new kind of rider, one who may not have previously considered taking a bus or train — thereby increasing ridership for a city’s entire mass transit network. 

Just look at Goiânia, Brazil. 

CityBus 2.0 offers on-demand rides to-and-from anywhere in the city (not just to transit hubs or within transit deserts), but the service still isn’t detracting from Goiânia’s robust bus network. Instead, according to a survey conducted by the National University of Brasilia in June 2019, 80% of CityBus 2.0 riders come from SOVs, including taxis and ridehail apps (62%) and personal vehicles (18%). 

Then, there’s Tel Aviv’s popular bubble service. The brainchild of Israel’s Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Transportation, bubble grew out of a microtransit pilot program, with a goal of reducing traffic congestion by expanding public transit. And it has. 

In fact, our rider survey from December of 2019 found that 73% of bubble riders who own a private car have used the service instead of their own vehicle at least once, and 20% of all bubble riders reduced private rides consistently (by more than 5 rides) because of the new on-demand service. For those who own a car, that second number jumps to nearly 32%.

Reputation is everything, right? 

Ridership metrics aside, passengers have to actually enjoy the service in order for it to succeed. For public transportation leaders, passenger satisfaction can be just as crucial a metric as farebox recovery ratios.

An oft-overlooked benefit of integrating microtransit into a public transportation system is the way in which these new services can improve residents’ overall perception of their city’s public transit network and those who run it. 

Riders using West Sacramento On-Demand in California, which happens to be one of the longest-running services of its kind, report 77% improved satisfaction with the city’s transportation due to this offering. 

The takeaway? Whether a massive metropolis, tiny suburb, or anywhere in between: TransitTech works by attracting net-new riders to public transportation. If you want to see how it could transform your community, we’d love to show you.


This article is a part of our Clarifying the Counterintuitive series, where we use real data from Via’s existing partnerships to prove why the seemingly obvious path forward might not always equate to a successful service model.

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