How North America’s largest microtransit service relies on Uber to connect riders and reduce costs
- Expand the reach of DART’s bus and rail network
- Serve a diverse population
- Increase customer satisfaction
- Lower operational costs
Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) is a multimodal transit agency with a big mandate, serving 13 cities with a wide range of demographics and land use patterns. Uber supports DART in providing service for GoLink, North America’s largest microtransit operation, covering 30 zones throughout and beyond DART’s 700-square-mile service area.
Map courtesy of DART. (Note: From a planning perspective, Zones 23 and 24, Inland Port and Inland Port Connect, are considered one GoLink zone. Zone 16, Plano Pilot, is not officially a GoLink zone yet.)
DART started GoLink as a pilot project with Uber and Vancouver-based on-demand transit provider Spare to improve existing on-demand microtransit service by implementing new technology and integrating it with the GoPass mobile app. The pilot project grew into a service that provides North Texas riders with greater flexibility and more options for their transportation needs.
With the DART and Uber partnership, riders receive on-demand rides to connect to or from a DART transit station or anywhere within a zone with a valid DART fare. Riders can book a trip in the GoPass app, DART’s all-in-one travel tool, or call the customer service center. Riders benefit from increased ride options on their schedule, while DART benefits from lower cost per ride and flexible fleet options.
“GoLink is designed to provide first-mile and last-mile connections to the DART bus and rail system and to fill in service gaps in low-density areas where traditional fixed-route service does not work effectively.”
Jing Xu, Assistant Vice President of Service Planning and Scheduling, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Texas
The rider experience
To ride with GoLink, riders open the GoPass app and enter their pickup and destination information. Riders will be asked if they are open to Uber to fulfill their GoLink trips, and through Spare’s system on the backend they are matched to the valid and most efficient options (agency-operated vehicle or Uber). Riders can complete the booking all within the convenience of the GoPass app or by calling DART’s customer service center. With a valid DART fare, riders can travel within a DART microtransit zone or to a designated local transit station. The average wait time for riders is around 13 minutes for an agency vehicle and 8 minutes for Uber, which has contributed to a high customer satisfaction rate.
How it started
In 2016, DART won a Federal Transit Administration Mobility on Demand Sandbox grant to pilot new technologies to improve and expand on-demand microtransit service and integrate customer tools into the GoPass app. DART’s proposal included a broad vision to lower barriers to accessing transit by unifying technology companies and third-party operators under the GoPass app.
Working with Spare, DART launched the GoLink microtransit service in 6 zones in 2017, DART added 9 zones and contracted with MV Transportation to provide dedicated microtransit service under a new, more flexible operating model. In 2019, DART partnered with Uber Transit to supplement GoLink with a non-dedicated service to lower operating costs and improve wait times. DART GoLink riders could then choose Uber rides at the cost of a transit fare within the microtransit service boundary.
How it’s going
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, DART saw a large decline in transit ridership, similar to most transit agencies. DART took the opportunity to convert low-performing bus routes to additional GoLink microtransit service zones as part of its bus service redesign. In 2022, DART expanded further with additional GoLink zones, bringing its total service area to 30 zones.
“Each of our current 30 GoLink zones has been developed and maintained with careful evaluation of the local attributes in the zone such as existing transit service, land use patterns, and business activities,” says Jing Xu, Assistant Vice President of Service Planning and Scheduling at DART.
Today, GoLink connects more than 46,000 monthly riders with approximately 16,000 opting into Uber. As a result of using a combination of dedicated and non-dedicated service providers, DART is operating GoLink at a reasonable cost, averaging a $17.04 subsidy per rider (as low as $8.58 on Uber).
By the numbers
- GoLink monthly ridership: 46,600 (15,900 on Uber)
- Average trip distance: 7.1 miles
- Average GoLink subsidy/rider: $17.04 ($8.58 on Uber)
- Average GoLink wait time: 13 minutes (8 minutes on Uber)
- 30 zones
- GoLink one-way fare: $2.50
- Reduced GoLink one-way fare: $1.25
- A.M./P.M., daily and monthly passes are also accepted
Although this project involves API integration, mobile apps, and the use of technology, the largest barrier to getting a project like this off the ground is a human obstacle.
“People are creatures of habit. Many of our new users had been going to the same bus stop and paying a fare at the fare box for years,” says Brandi Stringer from DART. “Now we are asking them to engage with us in a new way to use microtransit service. We worked tirelessly to provide ample support to riders as they transitioned to this new service.”
As DART transitioned some of its low-performing bus routes to on-demand service, it invested heavily in marketing, outreach, and increased levels of customer service. One example was ensuring that customer service and reservations representatives were prepared to educate riders on the service changes and how riders could change along with them. As a result, customer service talk times rose by as much as 30% at the beginning of DART’s new program before returning to normal. DART also staffed grassroots community outreach with team members on the buses and at stations to provide one-on-one instruction and service change information to users.
Advice to other transit agencies
DART took a very iterative approach to service design, carefully assessing the unique needs of each microtransit service zone. Uber Transit recommends that peer agencies adopt a similar approach. Don’t expect all your service zones to perform equally; some may have a popular transit hub or other key destination that drives higher ridership, and others might benefit from a lower cost per rider (compared with a fixed-route service) for a low-density area.
DART’s hybrid delivery approach, with a mix of dedicated and non-dedicated vehicles, proves the power of right-size fleet sizing to scale microtransit operations, control operating costs, and provide greater service flexibility. Using Uber to supplement its dedicated operations has allowed DART to maximize its fixed assets and tap into a flexible supply of non-dedicated vehicles to respond when demand spikes.
This hybrid model offers the best of both worlds: the accessibility and capacity of agency-branded vans and the efficiency and flexibility of the cost-per-trip model that transportation network companies use.
*Based on November 2022 data.
If you are a mobility manager interested in harnessing Uber’s technology please visit uber.com/transit for more information.
Posted by Sanathan Kassiedass and Lucia Phan
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