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Improve Bus Service with Neighborhood Last Mile EV Shuttles

Shared EV shuttles as feeders to Bus Rapid Transit.

Photo of Benjamin Meza-Wilson
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Michigan Central Station

  • I'm not sure

Bus service leaves a lot to be desired with 30 or 60 minute wait times between vehicles being typical. Bus Rapid Transit (express buses) get riders places quickly, but only operate on arterials and other main roads. Using low-speed electric shuttles is a microtransit solution that can bridge this gap, providing final mile (first/last mile) service. Shared shuttles can also reduce the need for downtown parking. With the advent of electric buses with long ranges, a completely zero emission transportation service can be created. Using retrofit ready vehicles, like the Polaris GEM, shuttles can be automated in an incremental way.

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Photo of Christopher Craft

Hello Benjamin and thank you for your input. I'm Chris, part of the City:One facilitation team for the Michigan Central Station Challenge. Do you have any thoughts on what routes these EV shuttles would run? Would they be on-demand?

Additionally, do you believe EV shuttles could be part of a larger mobility ecosystem, including bikes and walking paths - or should the focus be on motorized transit?

Photo of Benjamin Meza-Wilson

Thanks for your comment Chris! I believe in using all available methods and modes, starting with mixed land use/zoning policy so that places people need to go, such as grocery stores and recreation centers are walkable for neighborhood residents. I think micromobility solutions like shared scooters and bikes have a place. In addition I also believe short distance, low speed electric shuttles can be a great compliment to bus rapid transit service and much more comfortable than bikes, scooters or walking during inclement weather, with small children or carrying groceries or other items. Ideally the least amount of motorized vehicles in neighborhoods is the best in my opinion. Low speed shared shuttles have great potential in that regard.

Photo of Benjamin Meza-Wilson

In terms of the topology of the microtransit routing I think that there are benefits of both fixed and on-demand. I envision a hybrid model where rides are initially custom/on-demand, but transition to quasi-fixed as routine stops are established, within 1-5 mile radius micro-districts (size depends on passenger demand levels) . After that the route is essentially fixed, but can accommodate additional stops and skip stops when appropriate. I see all this happening with human professional drivers initially, but with fixed routes it can be automated as the technology (both on the vehicle and infrastructure) is established, as well as the legal framework (State licensing rules for robotic drivers and a liability paradigm which fault lies on the manufacturers and roadway designers, instead of the users/riders). In fact the rules of the road (licensing law) as well as the system programming can be established and created by this process using professional drivers and retrofit ready vehicles.

Photo of Perry MacNeille

Low-speed heated neighborhood electric vehicles make sense for neighborhood transportation. Exchangeable batteries that can be recharged at a residence would be an important feature to reduce battery costs and and charging times. The vehicles would probably operate under 25 MPH (like golf carts), but have a human operator (probably one that lives in the community). Vehicles could be stored wherever it is convenient. They should be warm. They should be able to travel over rough terrain when necessary, such as alleys and snow packed driveways. They should generally arrive within 10-minutes of being requested. UBER or LYFT could supply apps for ride-sharing/on-demand use.

Photo of Benjamin Meza-Wilson

Thank you very much for these suggestions Perry! The vehicles can be stored in driver/custodian garages. They have the chargers integrated into the vehicles so they can be plugged into standard outlet in the custodian's home. One specific vehicle need not be operational 24 hours a day, at times when they aren't needed they can be charging. Exchangable batteries certainly is one approach, yet another could be additional vehicles (likely from other neighborhood custodians). When operating in a microdistrict (~2 mile radius) it should not take 10 minutes to wait for the next ride.

Photo of Alex McDonnell

Ben, you’ve got something here. I see the benefits of shared EV ride sharing for short term mobility.

The peddle bike Trolleys which operate and spread throughout the downtown areas have virtuously zero routes established. However, there is some level of repetition to their madness. I am fairly certain the trolly businesses are paid out a lump sum annual amount by the bars/restaurants whom actively seek the trolley riders business.

The most creative minds work in such ways that they’re able to transform two or more ideas/problems/issues into just one sole output. Let’s deviate from a point that exists now and make it better. Short range EV Bus routes can replicate trolley routes (travel anywhere), or operate through standardized routes which come to fruition by those riders signing up on regular charters. Imagine if Whole Foods sponsored a route to pick up loyal customers to go shopping at their store; (color specific EV bus for Whole Foods) allowing residents to sign up in advance at a rate of 3x a month. You could even pick who you go with on bus trips to and from and at what time of the day that works best for you. The local commercial businesses and government networks hold value in getting involved to advance mobility solutions. Could we see ideas populate for Whole foods/Belle Aisle/MCS/DIA? I think so!

Thank you,

Alex McDonnell

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