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How to Optimize Your Paratransit and Microtransit Fleet

Combining technology with flexible vehicle and driver options make delivering optimal fleet deployments possible

Niklas Mey

On-demand paratransit and microtransit allows transit providers to meet the individual needs of communities like never before. Such tailored services can also have benefits for the providers themselves.

By really understanding the needs of communities, transit agencies can optimize the use of their demand-based fleets, reducing both operational costs and capital expenditures.

They can also leverage a number of different operational models that rely on dedicated and non-dedicated fleets, as well as agency-owned vehicles and third-party mobility providers.

In this blog post, we provide tips for establishing a fleet-use plan that works for you, in addition to how you can incorporate practices such as trip brokering and commingling to your benefit. But first, let’s get started with the basics.

The difference between dedicated and non-dedicated fleets

In on-demand transit, fleets are transportation vehicles that are deployable for your transit service. There are two types of fleets:

Dedicated Fleets

Imagine these fleets as drivers who operate on an employee model. These drivers clock in via a tablet, similar to a 9 to 5 shift. As hourly workers, these drivers will automatically receive and accept trips from an agency and start driving.

Non-Dedicated Fleets

These drivers operate as independent contractors and are paid per trip. Non-dedicated fleets and drivers can accept or reject trips.

Together with the capabilities of on-demand technology, non-dedicated fleets make trip brokering possible for transit agencies. Where an increase in ridership is anticipated, for example during peak hours, the technology will evaluate the demand, and determine cost and time efficiencies when dispatching a taxi versus one of the transit agency’s minibuses based on the estimated wait time or other metrics.

Spare Tip: Relying on a mix of dedicated and non-dedicated fleets can cut costs by allowing you to deploy specific types of vehicles for specific rider groups. For instance, you can choose to outfit only a select number of dedicated vehicles with wheelchair accessibility features for your paratransit service, and rely on non-dedicated accessible vehicles if the demand rises or a rider’s special mobility needs don’t require an especially accessible vehicle.

Leverage third-party mobility providers

Utilize taxi and ride hailing as non-dedicated fleets

Transit agencies face a common problem when it comes to available fleets and rider demand—especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. From social distancing measures and changing healthcare restrictions to a fear of contracting the virus, now more than ever, buses are travelling at less capacity.

One way of addressing this challenge is by brokering trips to non-dedicated taxi and ride hailing companies. Trip brokering improves operational efficiency, as this example of EMT Palma in Spain shows, and by utilizing taxis and ride hailing vehicles as non-dedicated fleets, you can also significantly lower operational expenses due to trip-based deployment.

Utilize private transit providers as dedicated fleets

While third-party mobility providers do include taxi and ride hailing companies, they also include private transit providers (such as First Transit or National Express, companies that offer public transportation contracting and management services).

Dedicated fleets are operated by scheduled drivers who automatically accept and complete trips. By leveraging private transit providers’ dedicated fleets, you can ensure your base demand is covered while also benefiting from lower capital expenditures, as you don’t need to purchase more vehicles and employ more drivers.

Ultimately, the approach that works best for you will come down to your goals, existing relationships, and business model. (For instance agencies with unionized drivers utilize dedicated, agency-owned fleets.) But combining the use of dedicated and non-dedicated third-party mobility providers allows agencies to operate with flexibility and efficiency because it enables you to reduce or expand supply based on demand, deploying only the number of vehicles needed.

Spare Tip: Use dedicated fleets to serve the baseline demand and non-dedicated fleets to serve peak demand. For example, let’s say a service has an average of five to six trip requests every hour, but ten requests during rush hours. Ideally, two dedicated vehicles will serve the average five to six hourly trips, and the additional trip requests will be brokered to taxis during peak demand.

Improve operational efficiency with "commingling"

Traditionally, transit services operate on a one-to-one relationship: microtransit will have one dedicated fleet, paratransit will have another dedicated fleet, so on and so forth. Commingling offers an alternative to this model by enabling fleet sharing between services.

By allowing various rider groups to share the same vehicle or driver, transit agencies can operate closer to capacity, and increase cost savings by allowing agencies to run services with the smallest fleet required.

For instance, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Citibus in Lubbock, Texas faced a driver shortage which impacted both its paratransit and already-limited microtransit services. Forced to reevaluate their operations, they partnered with Spare to create specific rider groups and then implemented commingling to share vehicles between their paratransit and microtransit services, allowing them to ensure all rider groups were served while scaling operations.

Meanwhile in Wyoming, the City of Cheyenne Transit Program (CTP) used Spare to launch a fully-automated on-demand microtransit and paratransit commingled service. As a result, CTP decreased per-trip operational costs by 36% and eliminated redundancies caused by running parallel microtransit and paratransit systems.

Based on our feedback from partners around the world, by using Spare to combine services and optimize usage of diverse fleets, transit agencies in the United States have been able to reduce daily vehicle hours by around 30% and reduce daily cost of operations by an average of 32%.

Spare Tip: Commingling can also create a more inclusive environment for riders and remove barriers between rider groups.

Combining trip brokering and commingling

Integration is the future of transportation. By combining trip brokering and commingling, transit agencies can effectively create a mobility marketplace that’s able to flexibly and fluidly meet transportation demands. This is where Open APIs like Spare come in: they provide agencies with a platform to seamlessly connect riders to various, multimodal services from microtransit and paratransit to fixed-route buses, automatically dispatching the most efficient fleet (both agency-owned or third party) depending on the ride requested.

Cross-industry innovations like driver tipping for public transit, new revenue and partner opportunities, and economies of scale driving down technology costs are some of the benefits agencies who consider the power of integration can expect to enjoy.

The ability to independently optimize on-demand paratransit and microtransit fleets allows transit agencies to increase operational efficiency and tailor services to the specific communities they serve. If you want to learn more about fleet optimization or how Spare can help your on-demand transit service, drop us a line at