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Sacramento launches US’ largest on-demand public microtransit system

Described as a mix between ride-hailing and taking the bus, the on-demand service uses small shuttle vehicles and costs $2.50 a ride.


Sacramento Regional Transit District (SacRT) has launched a 42-vehicle on-demand transit system in partnership with mobility solutions company Via. The partners claim it is the largest on-demand public transit system deployed in America to date.


Named SmaRT Ride, the on-demand shared transit network serves nine zones throughout Sacramento, California, and aims to increase access to convenient, comfortable public transportation, as well as acting as a link to existing transit hubs.


The SmarRT Ride programme launched in February 2018 and the City of Sacramento has now partnered with Via to expand the service and add new functionality for riders.


How it works


Riders can hail a vehicle directly from the new SmaRT Ride app or by calling. Via’s algorithms match up multiple riders to share the vehicle and direct passengers to a nearby virtual bus stop within a short walking distance for pick-up and drop-off. This means fixed routes and schedules for the vehicles are not required.

Riders can hail a vehicle directly from the new SmaRT Ride app or by calling.

“We have seen great success with our other SmaRT Ride zones and we are excited to be able to provide this innovative mobility option to more communities,” said Henry Li, general manager/CEO, SacRT. “This expansion is a huge milestone for SacRT as we continue to explore new transit options and improve access and mobility for our riders.”


Electric shuttles roll out


The service uses small shuttle buses which can easily manoeuvre on residential streets, and the vehicles are equipped to accommodate people with disabilities.


Each trip costs $2.50 or $1.25 for seniors and people with disabilities. It’s free to ride with a young person’s RydeFreeRT sticker or pass or when travelling in groups of five.


As part of the SmaRT Ride expansion, SacRT also rolled out six electric SmaRT Ride shuttles in the downtown-midtown East Sacramento service area. In the next six months, three additional electric SmaRT Ride shuttles, provided by Electrify America, will be operating in the Franklin-South Sacramento zone.


Funding it


The new SmaRT Ride service is provided through Measure A funding, a half-cent sales tax for transportation improvements, administered by Sacramento Transportation Authority (STA). SacRT was awarded a $12m grant by the STA to help expand microtransit throughout the region.

SacRT was awarded a $12m grant by the STA to help expand microtransit throughout the region.

Daniel Ramot, co-founder and CEO of Via, said: “The all-new SmaRT Ride service is now the largest on-demand microtransit project in the US, making it an excellent example of how public transportation and technology can work together to make a city smarter.”


On-demand impact


Via also powers what it says is the largest microtransit system in the world in partnership with the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG) in Berlin, Germany.


A study last year by the Boston Consulting Group concluded that on-demand microtransit could cut city traffic by up to 30 per cent, based on studying services operated by Via (Via shared data for the study but did not sponsor or pay for it).


An article in Wired recently noted that several cities, including Helsinki, Los Angeles, Shanghai and Singapore, have been experimenting with on-demand buses but generally are “not seeing a lot of success”, due to challenges with attracting ridership, cost of operation and complexity, as well as the digital divide in some areas.


It will be interesting to see how Sacramento fares with greater scale.


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