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Op-Ed: Microtransit Shouldn't Replace Public Transit

Halfway between public transit and private cars, new and varying forms of 'microtransit' threaten to out-compete traditional public services. Concerns about equity, inclusion, and employee compensation follow.
May 14, 2015, 5am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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In this piece, Jarrett Walker identifies a potential niche for microtransit, which includes services like UberPool, LyftLine, Bridj, and Leap, among others. What we should avoid, he argues, is a situation where private microtransit companies completely replace public transit.

Instead, "The way forward is for less expensive service tools, including the upstarts, to focus on lower-density suburbia where the land use patterns make efficient big-vehicle transit geometrically impossible. The upstarts could even become contractors of the transit agency part of the time -- paid to do things that they can do more efficiently than big buses can -- as taxis often are today."

If private and public transit cannot find equilibrium, we may face either a cutthroat mobility market or more of the same inefficient public services. "But when I hear the upstarts appealing to elitism, and derogating conventional high-efficiency transit, I wonder where we'll end up ... One thing is for sure: This sector is going to need strong regulation to turn it into a force for good."

Of course, private microtransit has long been a viable mode for city-dwellers in poorer countries. Lacking all start-up flashiness, a multitude of vans and small buses already fills the gaps left by public transit in places like Mexico City and Mumbai. 

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Published on Tuesday, April 28, 2015 in Human Transit
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