Redefining suburban mobility in Minnesota
Provide scalable, on-demand coverage across a large suburban area to connect riders to transit hubs and medical facilities.
The SouthWest Prime service, which operates across five suburban cities in Minnesota, is one of the largest on-demand transit zones in the world. Covering almost 80 square miles, this urban area has unique geographical challenges, compounded by the fact that its residents are heavily dependent on private vehicles. It is therefore an interesting testbed for suburban mobility and paratransit solutions. Spare took over as the key technology provider for the service in 2019, when SouthWest Transit needed a truly flexible platform to rapidly scale the number of on-demand vehicles it could run.
Many riders commute to Minneapolis for work from a transit hub in Eden Prairie, but the scale of urban sprawl means that fixed-route services cannot adequately service all suburbs. Car ownership is therefore high, which has knock-on effects on congestion and parking.
Other challenges include:
- There are large fluctuations in transit demand throughout the day, which complicates the scheduling of bus driver shifts;
- SouthWest Transit could not easily scale their operations, because their former software provider only allowed manual ride-matching (as opposed to automatic matching and dynamic re-routing);
- There is a growing demand for vital non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) to key hospitals and clinics around the region.
To ramp up the provision of on-demand services, Spare worked closely with SouthWest Transit on modeling experiments to identify demand hotspots and bus capacity requirements. Prime now runs up to 16 vehicles at any given time on a curb-to-curb basis, as well as using ‘virtual stops’ in the vicinity of malls, schools and denser neighborhoods.
Spare developed a number of custom features for SouthWest Transit, including user suspensions, custom phone-call notifications, and more pooling options for drivers. Manual trip matching was replaced with automatic matching, and soon a ‘Predicted Demand’ feature will be deployed to anticipate demand before it spikes.
Following the success of the Prime service, Spare helped to launch Prime MD, a new non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) service. This allows registered customers to take trips outside the main Prime zone for medical appointments, with bookings up to two weeks in advance.
Elevated service quality helps riders reliably make their appointments. Pooling these NEMT trips results in significant efficiency and cost gains for the transit agency, and the NEMT vehicles can be used to supplement the regular service during peak times.
"Providing our residents with multiple microtransit services using a single platform would not be possible without Spare. There is no other software platform out there that is as dynamic, flexible and willing to adapt as Spare."
The Spare Engine helped to significantly improve the efficiency of Prime, with each passenger-kilometer costing 20% less to the agency. The experience for SouthWest Transit’s customers has also vastly improved, with waiting times dropping by 13% and almost two-thirds of all rides being pooled.
On the NEMT Prime MD service, ridership boomed to over 1,000 monthly boardings in the space of a few months. Prime MD’s superior customer service resulted in an average waiting time of only 14 minutes, allowing customers to attend their medical appointments swiftly and reliably.