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Metro MicroTransit service would add Uber-like shuttles to LA’s transportation network

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The system would allow riders to request rides using smartphones

View of cars in Los Angeles
Metro is preparing to launch a pilot program to test out the system.

As Los Angeles’s rail network continues to expand, Metro is considering new ways to ferry riders to and from major stations, and to compete with popular ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. One idea: a “MicroTransit” system that would allow users to flag down shuttles using an on-demand pickup function that could be accessed using mobile devices.

Metro plans to investigate this possibility further through a pilot program overseen by the agency’s Office of Extraordinary Innovation. In an interview with The Source, project manager Rani Narula-Woods says that Metro is looking for a private partner to help get the new service off the ground.

If the program goes into effect on a citywide level, it would be a little pricier than the standard $1.75 fare for Metro buses and trains, but Narula-Woods says the MicroTransit shuttles would be more affordable than a trip made through a ride-hailing app.

The MicroTransit system would rely on vehicles larger than a personal automobile, but much smaller than a city bus. And unlike buses, these vehicles would not travel along a fixed route with designated stops. Instead, routes would be adjusted based on where passengers are located and where they need to go.

Using smartphones, riders would be able to pay for trips and get real-time updates on pickup times and trip length estimates. According to Narula-Woods, riders “without smartphones or bank accounts” would also be able to use the service, though details on how that would work are a little hazy right now.

As Metro ridership continues to fall, agency officials have suggested that the convenience of ride-hailing apps may be drawing some riders away from buses and trains (though several other key factors may also be to blame).

But Narula-Woods says the MicroTransit idea isn’t about competing with companies like Uber and Lyft. “There’s a place for private mobility services to operate alongside publicly provided services,” she tells The Source. “We see a new transportation technology that has changed how many people travel, and we owe it to our customers and the taxpayers to be asking whether it, or any new technology, can play a positive role in Metro’s overall service.”