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Doubling Microtransit Ridership: RTC Washoe's Innovative Public Transportation Solutions

Goal

RTC Washoe aimed to transform its public transportation system to address low ridership on fixed routes and extend services to outlying areas. The goal was to implement a flexible, efficient microtransit solution that could adapt to varying demands and integrate seamlessly with existing services.

By the numbers

Ridership on microtransit services
Doubled in 2023
Number of vehicles and zones
8 vehicles across 3 microtransit zones
Cost of rides
$1.50 for all-day travel

Overview

Reno, affectionately dubbed "The Biggest Little City in the World," is home to a vibrant community with varied transit requirements. The Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Washoe County faced significant challenges in meeting the community's transit needs. Notably, a number of RTC Washoe's traditional fixed-route services dramatically underperformed, marked by low ridership and elevated operational expenses. In pursuit of a more adaptable and economical approach to improve service in remote areas and boost overall transit efficiency, RTC Washoe embarked on a pilot project to introduce microtransit into its community. Following a thorough request for proposal (RFP) process in 2020, the agency chose Spare to power its innovative microtransit solution, FlexRide. The goal was to create a more responsive, data-driven transit system that could adapt to the community's needs, streamline operations, and offer an attractive alternative to fixed-route services.

Partner
Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County (RTC Washoe)
Location
Reno, Nevada, USA
Launch
2020
Service Type
Microtransit, Paratransit

Challenges

RTC Washoe's push for a new transit approach was catalyzed by several key issues, detailed below:

  • Low Ridership and Inefficiency on Fixed Routes: Traditional fixed-route services were experiencing low ridership, leading to inefficiencies in resource allocation and high operational costs. This challenge underscored the need for a more dynamic transportation solution that could better serve the community's needs without the financial and environmental costs associated with underutilized fixed routes.
  • Service Expansion to Uncovered Areas: A significant portion of the community lived in areas not served by existing public transit options, particularly in Sparks and Spanish Springs. Extending services to these outlying areas required a flexible, cost-effective approach that could adapt to lower density without the high overhead of traditional bus services.
  • Adapting to Unforeseen Circumstances: RTC Washoe faced unexpected challenges that threatened service continuity, including a drivers' strike and a subsequent driver shortage. These situations highlighted the need for a robust, adaptable solution to maintain service delivery in the face of disruptions.
  • Demand for Improved Accessibility and Integration: There was a growing demand for a transportation service that not only addressed the first and last-mile problem but also integrated smoothly with existing transit options, providing a cohesive, user-friendly experience for all riders, including seniors and people with disabilities.

Solutions

Facing challenges with traditional transit services, RTC Washoe adopted strategic solutions to enhance efficiency and accessibility. Here are the key measures they took:

  • Introduction of FlexRide Microtransit Service: RTC Washoe responded to the challenge of low ridership and inefficiency on fixed routes by partnering with Spare to launch FlexRide, a microtransit service. This demand-responsive transportation solution replaced poorly performing fixed routes, optimizing resource use and reducing operational costs.
  • Strategic Expansion Using Data-Driven Insights: To extend services to previously uncovered areas, RTC Washoe utilized data and insights gathered from pilot programs and community feedback. This strategic approach enabled the targeted expansion of the FlexRide service to areas with the highest demand, ensuring efficient use of resources and maximizing community impact.
  • Leveraging Open Fleets Integration for Flexibility: To navigate unforeseen challenges like the drivers' strike and shortage, RTC Washoe leveraged the Spare Open Fleets integration with Uber and Lyft. This innovative solution allowed for rapid deployment of alternative transportation options, ensuring continuous service availability and demonstrating the system's adaptability.
  • Enhanced Accessibility and Improved Integration: RTC Washoe improved accessibility and integration by ensuring that the FlexRide service could be easily accessed through a unified mobile app, offering reduced fares for all-day travel, and enabling connections to fixed-route services. This was made possible through Spare’s integration with Token Transit to complete RTC Washoe’s mobile fare system. RTC Washoe riders are able to purchase digital bus passes and surface them on their smartphones to board, eliminating the need for paper passes. However, cash fares and traditional bus passes continue to be accepted alongside this new option. This approach addressed first and last-mile problems and significantly enhanced the user experience, particularly for work-related trips, seniors, and people with disabilities.

In 2023, our microtransit ridership essentially doubled. And we're able to support that through Spare’s Open Fleets integration with Uber and Lyft, which is really helping us out. About a year ago when we had our tough driver strike, the Spare team stepped in and were able to quickly put vehicles out there that's not part of the service area. The set-up was really quick. I mean, we were really amazed.

Susi TrinidadADA Paratransit Administrator, RTC Washoe

Results

RTC Washoe's adoption of microtransit solutions has achieved remarkable outcomes in ridership, accessibility, and service adaptability, as highlighted by the following achievements:

  • Doubled Microtransit Ridership: RTC Washoe's strategic approach to replacing underperforming fixed routes with microtransit zones which connect to Reno's remaining fixed route services, led to a significant increase in ridership.
  • Enhanced Accessibility and Convenience: The expansion of services to outlying areas and the integration of microtransit with fixed-route and paratransit services improved accessibility, offering a seamless transportation experience for all users.
  • Rapid Response to Unforeseen Challenges: The flexibility of the microtransit solution allowed RTC Washoe to adapt quickly to challenges, maintaining service continuity and reliability.

Conclusion

RTC Washoe's innovative approach to public transportation has set a precedent for how transit agencies can adapt to changing community needs and challenges. By focusing on flexibility, integration, and user convenience, RTC Washoe has not only improved the quality of life for its riders but also established a scalable model for future growth and development in public transit.

We've grown along with Spare, and we're really happy. Looking towards the future, we want to continue to leverage Spare and continue to grow our FlexRide offerings.

Jim Gee
Jim GeeDirector of Public Transit and Operations, RTC Washoe