Several weeks after the on-demand bus service Bridj announced a relaunch in Sydney, Australia, Los Angeles Metro has made public its intentions to kick off a similar program.
The agency is looking for a “friend” to help build an on-demand transit program to supplement its fixed services, Wired’s Aarian Marshall reports, clarifying that by “friend” the agency of course means “private company.” Last week, Metro reportedly issued an RFP, and Marshall speculates that potential partners could include Uber, Lyft, Ford’s Chariot or New York’s Via.
The “MicroTransit” service, as Metro has taken to calling it, will be very similar to the Bridj program, which operated in Boston, Washington, D.C., and, briefly, Kanas City before shutting down earlier this year. According to Metro’s website, it will be “a small vehicle that you can order (like you would a Lyft or Uber) that is not tied to a fixed route or even a fixed schedule.” It will be available on-demand, and although it will likely be costlier than a traditional bus, the agency hopes it will be cheaper than calling an Uber or Lyft.
“Our hypothesis is that incorporating a service like MicroTransit into our wheelhouse could benefit our customers and support our broader mission to improve mobility in Los Angeles County,” the agency states on its website.
In Los Angeles, the time is right for experimentation. Bus ridership is steadily declining, and in response, the agency launched a multi-year study to help it more effectively overhaul its bus routes earlier this year.
Marshall sees potential in the “MicroTransit” idea, declaring that it could “reshape the way Americans get around” and “gift entire cities with faster, cost effective service” to get drivers out of their cars. Or, she writes “it could be the latest shiny object (oh hey, Hyperloop) distracting from the time- and work-intensive solutions needed to fix city travel ills, such as better payment systems, upgraded trains and vehicles, more frequent service, and road pricing schemes.”
After all, Bridj had a very difficult time in the U.S., and, as Next City has covered, transportation experts saw in its demise a kind of microcosm for one of America’s thorniest transit issues — how to keep a transportation system afloat without heavy subsidies. But Los Angeles has shown a willingness to invest in its public systems — hopefully the story of Bridj in the U.S. won’t be the story of MicroTransit in L.A.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.