First-mile, last-mile service helps bridge the spatial divide, with jobs being located far from where workers live
A month and a half after launching its second first-mile, last-mile pilot program in Northeast Ohio’s Aerozone Alliance region — an economic development hub area created to attract jobs and capital investment — RTA will host a business open house on November 30 in hopes of bringing more employers on board.
It comes on the heels of growth in the Solon microtransit pilot program, which has seen steady ridership gains every month since being introduced in late 2022.
According to GCRTA director of programming and planning Maribeth Feke, the decision to introduce the pilot programs was influenced by Covid-19.
“When the pandemic hit, no one was working except essential workers, so we were taking essential workers and that became very important and everyone saw that people needed to get to work,” Feke said. “There were a lot of companies, employers, the Economic Development Department in the county, were screaming that they couldn’t get workers to their work.”
Like the Solon pilot program, the Aerozone microtransit pilot is a public-private partnership funded in part by an ODOT Ohio Transit Partnership Program grant. RTA agreed to fund half of microtransit service costs–up to $300,000 — while participating employers fund the other half.
“There’s something called the mobility divide where people who want jobs can’t get the jobs they want because there’s a lack of transit or because the first or last part of the transit trip is not as pleasant as it could be,” Feke said. “For example, they get off at a bus stop and have to walk a mile in the dark and go down windy roads that are not lit without sidewalks, so we put together a program and we got a grant from ODOT to do a workforce program to get workers to their jobs.”
October saw the highest Solon microtransit ridership since the program was introduced, with nearly 400 rides, according to the RTA. Earlier this month, RTA also launched its second first-mile, last-mile pilot program in the Aerozone region.
“Growth of the program jumps every time we have a new employer and employers are really the key growth-lever for this program’s success and the employers are the ones who can direct this benefit to the individuals who are going to be able to use it,” said Ryan McManus, CEO of SHARE Mobility.
Between the two pilot programs, nine organizations are participating: Wrap-Tite, Amazon, Birdigo, Pile Dynamics, Primrose Schools, Victory Packaging, Diamond Metals, Mazella and Polaris Career Center, according to SHARE Mobility, the Ohio-based company partnering with the GCRTA to provide microtransit services.
“There’s something called a spatial mismatch and the jobs are getting further and further away from where people live and those jobs are then only accessible by those who have cars,” McManus said. “But with this program, now employers are able to actively recruit individuals by saying, ‘We have door-to-door transportation, or you have RTA, all the way to our front door, transportation available.’”
Feke likens employers’ funding of the programs to paying for the parking of employees who drive cars, and McManus says offering first-mile, last-mile service helps businesses attract and retain employees.
“It keeps an employee from losing the job if they maybe don’t have reliable transportation anymore, they have short term car trouble, they lost their ride to work,” said McManus. “This is going to help the employers also keep their workforce.”
The pilot programs can only run until June 14, 2024, at which time the GCRTA’s memorandum of understanding with the union will expire. In addition to metrics like cost per mile, cost per person and ridership, Feke says GCRTA will survey employers and employees to evaluate the programs’ success.
“There’s also a very qualitative aspect to this. We’re going to ask employers, ‘Does this make a difference? Are you retaining more employees? Are you able to get new employees easier? Is your productivity up?’” said Feke, “Questions like that for the employer and for the person riding, the employee, similar questions. ‘What would happen if you didn’t have the service? Has this enhanced your ability to get to work on time and more comfortably? Has this helped you?’”
If the microtransit programs are deemed successful, GCRTA plans to make them permanent fixtures and could possibly expand to other areas.
“We’re learning a lot…So, if we think it’s something that we want to continue and move forward, we would then expand. I don’t know how; I like the idea of the market sort of taking care of itself because Ryan’s trying to make it sustainable for himself, his company and us, rather than us trying to figure out from a public transit perspective, what makes sense,” Feke said.