King County Metro customers will soon be able to use new mobile apps to hail an on-demand shuttle to and from transit hubs throughout the region, starting at the county’s largest park-and-ride.
Starting on Oct. 23, commuters will be able to use the first app – called Ride2 Park & Ride – to hail a shuttle operated by Chariot and Ford Smart Mobility to and from the Eastgate Park-and-Ride in Bellevue.
Metro will make similar on-demand shuttle service available to other transit hubs throughout King County over the next several months as a part of a yearlong pilot project.
The pilot will be free for a few months, at which point you’ll be able to board using your ORCA card.
Much like the trailhead service, which started in a limited fashion in 2017 and then expanded in 2018, Metro is going to take advantage of the Chariot partnership to try this and see what works. Metro’s Jeff Switzer told me that Chariot was selected through a competitive bid, and that the two organizations are splitting the costs (though Chariot picked up the tab for the app development).
After the two month pilot, Switzer says, “Metro will begin charging standard fares, and we and our partners will analyze the ridership data and cost data to determine the best pricing model for continuing the service and possibly expand.”
One potential stumbling block is Chariot’s use of nonunion drivers. KUOW’s Joshua McNichols noted that the ATU was “nervous” about the service and might make a unionization push. Union opposition helped kill a last-mile service in Seattle earlier this year.
All over Puget Sound, agencies are experimenting with different flavors of “microtransit.” Mercer Island is using some Sound Transit settlement money for it, Seattle Mayor Durkan’s latest budget proposes a last-mile pilot, while Pierce Transit is running subsidized Lyft rides to and from transit stations.
Nationally, results are mixed. Streetsblog wrote critically of microtransit experiments, but concluded that the best of them were performing “like decent dial-a-ride services.” Given that the Eastgate service is peak-only and serves a limited geographic range, it seems unlikely that it would cost as much as dial-a-ride. But that’s what the pilot’s for, I suppose.
Assuming the subsidy levels are manageable and the union question can be resolved, a service like this is probably the right approach for the Eastgate area, which has a full park-and-ride and the low-density, hilly, land use patterns that are the bane of effective fixed-route transit service.