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Bend eyes study of microtransit options


What do you get when you cross the on-demand travel advantages of an Uber or Lyft with a fixed-route bus line scrubbed due to low ridership? Perhaps a piece of the future of mass transit, in the form of a hybrid called microtransit — and it could be coming to Bend in some form, as soon as next year.

The Bend City Council will be asked Wednesday night to approve an agreement with OSU-Cascades for up to $50,000 for a pilot study of possibly replacing a discontinued Cascades East Transit bus line with on-demand transit, known as microtransit.

Councilors also will review a new two-year contract extension with CET’s parent organization, the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council.

In the issue summary for the next agenda item, City Manager Eric King said preparing for that transit contract renewal, “it became apparent that there may be additional, more cost-effective methods of delivering transit service.”

King noted that OSU-Cascades, which began a bike-share program in 2016, is positioning its newly formed Bend Mobility Lab to test on-demand transit. That pilot study begins this fall, extending up until as late as next June.

The city is considering partnering with OSU-Cascades and St. Charles Health System on the study, which would look for an innovative transit solution to fill a gap in service created when CET discontinued its Route 12 fixed-route service at NW Crossing, COCC and OSU-Cascades on July 1 due to low ridership.

The goals of the short-duration pilot study also would include attracting new riders, cutting single-occupancy vehicle trips and testing if on-demand pooled services can provide transit access in an area with relatively low population and employment density.

The study would dovetail with work underway to update the region’s transit master plan and the city’s transportation system plan.

“We envision a transit service that is on-demand, allowing riders to book a trip in advance or in real time,” King wrote. The service provider will provide multiple vehicles and use technology to dynamically route each vehicle to efficiently respond and pool (i.e., group) ride requests.”

OSU-Cascades plans to issue a formal solicitation later this month, and King said they expect interest from transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft, as well as microtransit companies and firms that license software for local transportation. The proposals will be evaluated by city, CET and OSU-Cascades officials.

While many details still need to be worked out, King noted that a comparison between current private transportation services and CET’s Route 12 operational costs shows the potential to cut costs and boost performance with an on-demand service.

“For example, private TNCs (Uber and Lyft) are currently offering door-to-door rides within the Route 12 area for up to $12, less than half of the operation cost per ride on Route 12 in fiscal year 2018,” King wrote.

But national discussion of microtransit projects to this point shows results have been spotty at best, according to this June blog posting:

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