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Transport has come a long way in terms of evolving with the demands of a growing society. But there is still one area left that Transit Agencies and local governments have yet to remedy, and that is finding a solution to the first mile and last mile problem that plagues the majority of commuters.
What does first mile/last mile mean?
Let’s break this issue down. The first mile/last mile problem is as simple as its name—it is finding a solution to the first and last leg of a traveller’s journey.
Your average trip can be categorised into three separate legs: the first trip, which is usually the initial connection from your residence; the main trip, normally facilitated by a mode of public or shared transport; and the last trip, which is the final leg to a person’s place of work or urban resource.
Both the first and last leg of a journey remain diverse for your average commuter and are in need of an overhaul to make travel more efficient and sustainable.
What’s the problem with first mile/last mile?
Transit Agencies and local governments have yet to implement a feasible solution to the first mile/last mile problem that will allow commuters to be transported directly from each of their individual homes to their desired destination in a cost-effective and sustainable way. And it is a problem that is in desperate need of solving before the population increases.
Within the next three decades, the population in America is expected to grow by “70 million, with mid-sized cities developing at three times the rate of the rest of the country”. This would lead to a plethora of issues for the transport industry, including traffic congestion, insufficient parking, and a lack of resourcing to facilitate cycling and walking infrastructures. Not to mention it would further complicate the already complex journey to work or urban resources for the everyday commuter.
From a study of 78 cities in the US, the U.S. Department of Transportation determined that the average job is accessible to “only about 27% of its metropolitan workforce by transit in 90 minutes or less”. This means that, for the majority of commuters travelling to their place of work, they will need multiple connections and modes of transport to complete their trip as a result of the current Public Transit model.
Driving is just one of the many alternative options people are utilising for the first and last leg, and when you consider that transportation accounts for 27% of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, adding another vehicle to the road is costly for the environment.
Alternatively, some are electing to cycle, while more than two-thirds of travellers are opting to walk to their Public Transport stop or station, according to the American Public Transportation Association. But with 6,800 organisations dedicated to Public Transport in the US alone, there should be an integrated solution available that would allow a more direct route.
What are first mile/last mile solutions?
Demand-Responsive Transport is a form of personalised shared transport that allows the commuter to register their trip and select both their pick up and drop off locations within a defined service zone. This model also has the potential to provide Public Transport feeder services to commute hubs, which would facilitate the first and last legs of a passenger’s journey if effectively implemented. No more driving, cycling or walking to a bus stop or station. Just select the appropriate options for you to be efficiently transported to your destination.
By establishing an efficient Demand-Responsive Transport model with Public Transport providers, I could effectively jump on a bus almost directly from my door. I wouldn’t have to walk several streets away to the nearest bus stop, catch a costly taxi to the station or even drive my own vehicle to the closest Public Transport. I simply register on my phone, and my trip is calculated into the overall journey, directing the first and last legs of my journey without any delay.
Microtransit is also an extension of this Demand-Responsive Transport model, and in simple terms, is considered as ‘dynamic routing’. Using a mobile smartphone Application, you can register a mode of transport that has fewer commuters, while still participating in adaptable journey mapping. At the click of a button, you can book a trip that will take you on the fastest route for yourself and fellow commuters.
The microtransit model opens up an avenue for Demand-Responsive Transport (DRT) feeder services (as previously mentioned), enabling a vehicle to create temporary pickup locations anywhere within a service zone and connect passengers to a central hub. Traditional networks use fixed-route feeder services, which can restrict the amount of opportunities a passenger has to connect to the main line. DRT feeder services offer an efficient way to onboard passengers, which is beneficial to solving the first mile/last mile problem.
MaaS (Mobility-as-a-Service) is also beneficial to resolving the first mile/last mile dilemma. By integrating the plethora of transit options at our fingertips all into the one App, there will no longer be a need to research multiple services to book your trip. It’s all calculated together in an easier and more efficient way, allowing you to catch connecting cabs, ridehailing services, buses or trains, or book car or bike rentals, without dealing with the challenges of scheduling them all to coincide with one another.
Introducing the Definitive Guide to Rural DRT.
Who benefits the most from first mile/last mile solutions?
By eliminating the complexities of calculating transport that fits across the three stages of transit (first trip, main trip and last trip), a number of social groups within society would benefit.
From research conducted by the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI) in the UK, women are disproportionately impacted by changes to Public Transport operations. They are found to be the group with some of the most diverse transit needs, given that they often work part-time, study, volunteer or have carer responsibilities that all need to be managed within a given day. Therefore, calculating all the legs of their journey would be a challenging and time consuming occurrence for this demographic.
Those who are elderly or live with a disability also face challenges in accessing basic services due to their reliance on Public Transport, which often has trouble meeting transit schedules as a result of their fixed-route model. This means that, keeping to necessary appointments or acquiring last-minute essentials comes with great difficulty for these social groups.
For the portion of the population that lives in rural areas, accessing Public Transport is a challenge given their remote locations and distance from the nearest bus stop or station. And with an ageing demographic, many are unable to drive their own private vehicles.
These disadvantaged groups unnecessarily suffer the brunt of transport poverty. And were first mile/last mile solutions, such as Demand-Responsive Transport, Microtransit, or MaaS made available to them, they would have enhanced access to equitable transport, as with the rest of society.
So what’s next?
Adopting either the Demand-Responsive Transport, Microtransit or MaaS options would eliminate the need for first mile/last mile solutions on the part of the passenger as they are collected close to their residence and dropped off at their desired location or connecting line. And if Public Transport modes were to be the ones to facilitate these models, it would spell a myriad of benefits for society, including reduced traffic congestion and carbon emissions, economic improvements for both the commuter and Transit Agencies, and an enhanced transit experience overall.
Transport equity is an important achievement for an emerging society, and were first mile/last mile solutions to be implemented across widespread demographics, we would see a significant movement towards this goal.