Shuttles are, indisputably, one of the best ways to get people out of their cars and on to public transit. They provide that essential “first” or “last” mile link between home-transit and transit-workplaces. With all the recent cutbacks in public transit operations, there will be a logical tendency for shuttles to fill the gaps.
But there’s more to it than simply putting more shuttles on the streets. I’m always dismayed when I see either public transit OR private shuttles running around empty – or with just one or two people on board. Such underutilization seems to undermine the very purpose of transit.
And yet, how do you provide the frequency and reliability of service that’s needed to make public transit a viable option for people in both peak and non-peak times, when demand ranges from zero to full capacity? It’s a difficult and delicate balance.
One strategy is to “right-size” vehicles for various uses. For instance, local circulators, “Shoppers” or services geared towards seniors are, in my experience, better fit for a van. Rarely is capacity an issue. Instead, the ability to provide door to door service; maneuverability; and to load both passengers and packages easily are important performance criteria. Sustainability of these low-volume operations depends on lowering vehicle acquisition, ongoing labor and maintenance costs. Why use a full-size bus that costs $50 to $75 an hour to operate when a van can do a better job at less than half the cost? The savings can be used to provide MORE SERVICE which, in turn, encourages more use!
As we look at improving the environmental performance of shuttles and transit, we also need to look at how existing shuttle resources can be utilized more efficiently. Combining services and right-sizing vehicles are both important strategies to consider.