SamTrans added some electric buses to its fleet in October 2018.

KCBS Radio

Uber For Buses? SamTrans Will Test An On-Demand Route

Margie Shafer
October 17, 2018 - 2:06 pm

If you’ve ever waited for a bus, you probably wished you could summon it to show up the moment you needed it. Now, San Mateo’s public transit system is planning to do something close to that. 

Ripping a page from Uber and Lyft’s playbooks, SamTrans is launching an app that will allow residents to request a pick-up for short trips from their homes in Pacifica begining next year. 

The idea is called micro-transit. SamTrans spokesperson Dan Lieberman described it as “moving away from fixed route service with large vehicles, and moving to something that’s more on demand with a smaller and more nimble fleet.”

The ride will cost the standard SamTrans fare: $2.25.

SamTrans is still negotiating for a vendor to provide the on-demand service, which would cover four square miles of the coastal city. That area encompasses Linda Mar, San Pedro Terrace, Shelter Cove and the Park Pacifica neighborhoods.

Officials expect it to replace the FLX Pacifica line, where riders may call 24 hours in advance to request the bus to deviate up to half a mile from its typical route to meet them closer to home.

Micro-transit would be an even more flexible service that reflects shifting ridership patterns, Lieberman said.

“Back in the day, the idea [was that> people would get on the train in the suburb… go in the city, and then come back," he said. "And that’s just not how it works anymore."

While the initial pilot program will have its own app, Lieberman said the service would eventually be rolled into the official SamTrans app.

Transit agencies throughout the Bay Area have struggled with declining bus ridership as traffic has worsened throughout the region, and a recent report concluded that ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft are to blame.

According to Lieberman, other agencies are also embracing micro-transit options for shorter trips. Transit experts hope that more versatile options can help solve the dreaded “first and last mile” problem, where public transit struggles to cover the gaps between their stations and stops and residents' homes and offices.