Imagine cutting your cost per trip in half, while increasing adoption of public transit by more than 20%. The City of Gainesville, Georgia, has a population of less than 50,000 residents and did just that.
Hall County, Ga., like many rural areas in the US, has faced a number of difficulties expanding access to public transit. These challenges have been particularly salient in two areas: The expanded urban zone, and a large rural region surrounding it.
Because of the scattershot geography of the communities and the resulting lack of rider density, the existing fixed route buses only captured about 15% of the county’s population.
And with the low number of buses on the road, headways were extremely long — from 30 to 60 minutes — meaning it might take riders two to three times longer to complete a trip by bus than by driving their private vehicles. Facing an inconvenient fixed route service, many residents chose to drive, causing severe congestion. Frequent traffic jams were constantly putting buses off schedule, which of course made the fixed route service even less reliable.
For years, the county had been suffering from the criticism that the buses were not serving a sufficient number of people, especially transit-dependent residents, who either cannot drive or do not own vehicles. So, county leaders decided to take a step forward and try something new.
Say hello to WeGo.
In mid-August 2020, the county’s transit agency, Hall Area Transit, along with The City of Gainesville, partnered with Via to determine which areas covered by fixed route buses could be better served by microtransit.
In only four months, Hall Area Transit launched WeGo, an on-demand microtransit service that replaced three underperforming fixed routes — with no operating cost increase. In fact, WeGo reduces cost per trip to half of its fixed route counterparts. This is because WeGo’s flexible scheduling only dispatches vehicles when there is a real-time demand — reducing the number of driver hours for the same number of trips, which better fulfills the need in low demand areas.
Via’s on-demand solution matches multiple riders headed in a similar direction into a smaller, single vehicle. The backend algorithm calculates the routing that allows for quick and efficient shared trips without long detours or ill-timed fixed route schedules, which improves the rider experience while lowering operating expenses.
An immediate success.
It only took two months until the data revealed overwhelming progress: WeGo exceeded the ridership of Dial-A-Ride and the remaining fixed route buses by more than 20%. WeGo is providing about 500 rides a week with 120 average riders per week, numbers that not only show great overall success, but also indicate many local residents are already WeGo devotees, using the service multiple times a week.
The service significantly expands access to more local destinations in the community for residents, covering areas the previous network didn’t reach. Within just a month, Hall Area Transit decided to expand from the current five vehicles to 15 to better meet growing rider demand. The new service is so successful that the agency planned to increase WeGo coverage across the entire county.
Starting from July 2021, WeGo expanded to the rest of Hall County, replacing Gainesville Connection, a fixed-route bus, and Dial-A-Ride, the county’s reservations-only curbside van service. The reason? As Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of Gainesville-Hall County Community Services, explains, “it became very apparent very quickly that WeGo has outpaced Gainesville Connection and Dial-A-Ride in all measurable ways.”
In just one month since expansion, WeGo has made almost 5,200 trips, carrying over 230 riders on average per weekday.
Many small town communities like Hall County are launching breakthrough services to their communities and seeing huge, almost immediate benefits. Pairing creativity with smart technology is a powerful way to build a transit system for the future.
Compliments of Via Transportation, Inc. – a member of the EACCNY.