Innovations in Infrastructure: Reinventing Travel Convenience

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According to the Chicago Tribune, Americans spent about $15 billion in fares on public transit in 2014. Public transit use has been steadily growing over the past few decades, with ridership increasing by nearly 39 percent since 1995. Yet, according to a recent article in Forbes, more and more people are losing confidence in public transit as a reliable transportation option.

Travelers in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, Denver and our nation’s capitol continue to express frustration with their transit and public transportation systems as derailments, delays and unscheduled repairs are occurring more frequently than they should. However, despite such dismal circumstances, Americans continue to rely heavily on public transportation.

In an effort to improve public transportation, the U.S. Department of Transportation has launched an innovative research challenge. Public transit organizations can apply for $7 million in federal funding for projects that demonstrate innovative approaches to improving safety for passengers and public transportation workers. “With these new grants, the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) is funding research on cutting-edge technologies to improve the performance of public transportation, making a safe mode of travel even safer for passengers as well as those who keep the trains and buses running,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

A rising trend in the world of public transportation is the growing use of microtransit in cities throughout the nation. With seemingly unending options for new rideshare services available to the public, microtransit is starting to revolutionize the way Americans get around. While the idea of sharing rides is not new, better data on mobility patterns and widespread smartphone access have made microtransit more popular.

Commingling of private microtransit services and public transportation abound.  For example, The Kansas City Transit Authority partnered with the Boston-based microtransit agency Bridj and Ford on a one-year pilot project that will bring on-demand public transit to Kansas City. This partnership gives Kansas City residents the option of using an app to reserve a seat on a Bridj vehicle, a commuter shuttle service, at $1.50 per ride. This small-scale example shows the potential for microtransit to become a viable public transportation option.

While the widespread maintenance issues and investment needs of our nation’s public transportation system are vast and complicated, innovative adaptions like microtransit are promising steps forward.

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