Transportation

METRO Tries Out New Transit App Similar To Rideshare

Riders can use the app for curb-to-curb service and the fare is the same as for a local bus.

One of the minivans in METRO’s Community Connector fleet.

A couple of years ago METRO started an on-demand transit service Missouri City where residents could call for a ride and a minivan or a 14-passenger bus would come to pick them up.

Now, METRO is trying out a new "curb2curb" app where riders can arrange times for pickup and then track the vehicle while it's driving to a location.

One of the app’s advantages is that passengers can get a ride a lot quicker than calling on the phone, according to Michael Andrade, who directs METRO's paratransit and microtransit services.

"What we wanted to do since 2018 is look for ways to enhance the customer experience in these zones through technology," Andrade said. "How do we offer ways for customers to access service in a way that gives customers the ability to request an on-demand trip, manage their own trips without having to call in for service."

Along with Missouri City, METRO has community connector zones in Houston's Kashmere Gardens and Acres Homes neighborhoods.

The aim was to try out the app in Missouri City because that zone is 17 square miles, and METRO wanted to see how it would work in a larger geofenced area, Andrade said.

"With this app, operators will be able to onboard customers on their own," he said. "In the past they would have to call in over the radio and a dispatcher would have to schedule that trip for the driver and place it on the schedule. But this new service has allowed more freedom for the customer and more freedom for the operators to manage their own trips."

One of the 14-passenger buses that’s used by METRO’s Missouri City Community Connector.

The cost to ride the Missouri City Community Connector is $1.25. Andrade said they're also hoping to launch an on-demand app in Acres Homes later this year.

To use the community connector, riders in Missouri City still have the option of calling to book a trip. They can also walk up and board a bus at two anchor points — the Missouri City Park and Ride and the WalMart Superstore on Highway 6.

Andrade emphasized the community connector service is available to everyone, and those vehicles are fully accessible.

While some riders use it to get around town, Andrade said others use it to connect with the park and ride so they can travel into downtown Houston. Community connectors are valuable in areas that don't have the proper infrastructure to run a fixed-route service — things like lighting and sidewalks.

The curb2curb app has been available for about a month now, and Andrade said they've already seen a slight increase in ridership because of it.

But the challenge for METRO is that ridership is down systemwide because of coronavirus concerns.

"We do have a core group of customers who are utilizing the service," explained Andrade. He said they're currently seeing between 150 and 200 riders a day on the Missouri City Connector, a drop of 30-40% from before the pandemic.

He added they've also limited capacity on the smaller vehicles to promote social distancing: The minivans are only carrying one passenger at a time and the bigger buses only have five or six.

But considering that travel patterns are changing with more people working from home, it’s hard to say what this could mean for transit in a post-pandemic landscape. Andrade said METRO is focused on getting feedback from customers as to their current mobility needs.

“Getting customers to utilize transit in a safe way is going to be important for us moving forward,” said Andrade. “Having that open line of communication with the community, working with our planning department, to see where transit makes sense for our customers.”

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Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

From early-morning interviews with commuters to walks through muddy construction sites, Gail covers all aspects of getting around Houston. That includes walking, driving, cycling, taking the bus, and occasionally flying. Before she became transportation reporter in 2011, Gail hosted weekend programs for Houston Public Media. She's also covered courts in...

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