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How to Design Your Paratransit and Microtransit Service Zone

Design microtransit and paratransit service zones, such as establishing boundaries, service stops, and fares, while keeping the needs of the community in mind.

Niklas Mey

Introducing or expanding microtransit or paratransit zones in communities can boost accessibility, increase ridership, and increase sustainability by reducing reliance on automobiles. When you’re considering implementing a new service zone, there are a number of things to keep in mind: ridership forecasts, travel patterns, funding availability, population and demographic trends, how the service will impact the community, and more.

Many agencies run pilot programs as a low-risk way of testing out the viability of new on-demand services before fully launching. But before you can get there, you need to pinpoint exactly where your service will run.

This blog post zeroes in on the nuts and bolts of designing a microtransit and paratransit service zone, such as establishing boundaries, service stops, and fares, while keeping the above considerations and the needs of the community in mind.

1. Define the zone area

The first step to designing an on-demand transit service is to set up a service area, which is simply a geographic area where a service takes place, often referred to as a “zone.”

Designing on-demand paratransit and microtransit zones can be done using polygon drawing tools or Geographical Information System (GIS) upload tools, both of which are offered by Spare. As you establish your zone, keep the “why” in mind: why are you offering this service?

Microtransit services generally fall into five broad categories. The challenge each type attempts to tackle is the “why” of the service:

  • Time of day — such as neighborhoods that only have bus access during rush hours.
  • Groups of people — such as senior communities that lack access to key services.
  • First mile/last mile — such as suburbs where the nearest transit stop is too far to walk.
  • Specialized — such as non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) that operates outside of fixed route zones.
  • Pop-up — temporary transit solution for events or services, such as transportation to a festival or a pandemic-response vaccine shuttle.

When you select a zone with Spare, it will provide you with in-depth information about the area, such as total population, jobs, and predicted daily trips, allowing you to determine what kinds of services may be most beneficial.

In addition, while paratransit service falls under the specialized category it’s worth considering the geographic location and time of day of the service, too. There may even be cases where a pop-up service becomes required for example when a snowstorm or heatwave hits your city.

Finally, don’t forget to keep in mind the ADA regulations, which stipulate that paratransit services must operate during the same hours and at least ¾ miles farther from all fixed route transit in the same zone.

Spare Tip: Align service area zones with natural boundaries such as roads, parks, mountains, or buildings so lines don’t cut through existing structures. This takes the guesswork out for riders so they know where they can and can’t travel.

2. Map out service stops

As with fixed-route services, on-demand stops define a rider’s pick-up and drop-off locations within a zone. However, on-demand takes it one step further by allowing agencies to analyze rider data, such as peak travel time, wait time, and rider demand, and to customize stops based on the needs of communities.

Transit agencies can customize three types of stops:

Door-to-door (D2D)

Quite simply, D2D stops mean that the rider is picked up at their specified location and dropped off at their destination. D2D stops are often required for paratransit services under ADA regulations, particularly for riders with mobility issues and those who cannot make their own way to a bus stop. Providing D2D stops is an ideal way to ensure your service is as accessible as possible.

Spare Tip: Run a more efficient on-demand network by leveraging rider groups and limiting D2D access to riders who really need it. As mobility impaired riders tend to face first mile/last mile challenges, offering convenient stops close to their origin and destination can make all the difference in their transit experience.

Stop-to-stop (S2S)

With S2S, transit agencies design the stops and Spare Platform navigates the rider and driver to the closest one based on the rider’s location. Transit agencies can create stops anywhere within a service area, but are advised to place them strategically to benefit the experience of both the rider and driver. This creates a much more efficient transit system as a whole, reducing wait times and detours, which increases pooling rates and people-per-vehicle-hour.

Spare Tip: Orient stops based on points of interest and other remarkable locations. In addition, consider how easy it will be for both the rider and driver to access them, e.g., the exits and entrances of a mall. It’s also advisable to place them roughly in a 400 meter by 400 meter grid, minimizing walking distance and increasing the convenience of your service.

Optimized Stops

Optimized stops also use a stop-to-stop method instead of door-to-door. Unlike S2S, optimized stop technology will identify a radius, analyze the three closest stops to a rider, and select the stop that’s the most optimized for the system as a whole, resulting in the lowest wait and fastest travel time for the rider.

For example, if a rider lives southbound and a driver is heading northbound to pick up the rider, on-demand technology integrates rider/driver data and prompts the rider to cross the street to meet the vehicle. Although the rider walks slightly farther, it avoids the vehicle making a U-turn to pick up the rider. Optimized stops increase system efficiency, lower the rider's wait time, and streamline the driver’s route—all while agency staff don’t have to lift a finger.

Spare Tip: Optimized stops are advised for on-demand commuters and last mile/first mile services, increasing efficiency and enabling riders to get from point A to point B the fastest.

3. Establish service hours

Service hours define the date and time during which planned services operate. Often, this includes Special Hours, such as planning a service around statutory holidays or special events for specific rider groups, or Exclusion Dates, which are days that services don’t operate.

Spare Tip: Implement changes to service hours as immediately as possible to ensure riders are kept up-to-date. This can be done by using a self-serve transit management tool that removes the lag time required for developers to create code changes when updating service hours.

The ability to create and manage service areas autonomously allows transit agencies offering on-demand paratransit and microtransit services to really fine-tune and tailor zones to the specific communities they serve. If you want to learn more about designing zones or how Spare can help your on-demand transit service, drop us a line at