On-demand shuttle incorporates health and social distancing best practices

In partnership with City of Seattle and thanks to the voter-approved Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD), King County Metro has extended the Via to Transit pilot with public mobility provider Via for a second year, from June 22, 2020 to April 2021. The start date of Via to Transit’s second year of service coincides with Metro’s ramp-up of fixed route service.

In its first year, Via to Transit was a flexible, on-demand shuttle service that provided rides to and from five transit hubs in southeast Seattle and Tukwila, solving the first-last mile challenge for around 800 daily riders since it launched in April 2019. In year two, Via to Transit will serve the three transit hubs shown to be in areas where needs are greatest – Rainier Beach, Othello, and Tukwila International Boulevard light rail stations – which have also shown to offer the most rides per service hour.

Positive Customer Response

Before concluding the Via to Transit pilot on March 23, 2020 in response to COVID-19, Metro and the City of Seattle were overwhelmed with positive feedback from customers. Riders not only rated the service 4.8 stars out of five on the Via app, but wrote more than 200 letters advocating for Via to Transit to continue.

Customers credited Via to Transit with drastically reduced commute time, increased personal safety versus walking to transit, greater access to the region without needing to own a car, and more independence for young or disabled riders.

Convenience of the service also was also attractive to riders. Via boasted an average wait time of 9 minutes and an average in-vehicle time of 7 minutes. Connected service areas (such as Othello and Rainier Beach) drew a larger pool of drivers since they can serve both service areas. This reduced customer wait time and increased service efficiency.

Serving areas of greatest need

One of the original goals of Via to Transit was providing service in areas with high percentages of residents with low incomes, people of color, and individuals with limited English proficiency – all factors in determining where “needs are greatest” according to Metro’s Mobility Framework. Relaunched service continues to serve these communities.

Demographics

Service area (north to south) Low-income People of Color Limited English Proficiency
Mount Baker 6% 60% 15%
Columbia City 6% 68% 15%
Rainier Beach 5% 80% 20%
Othello 8% 82% 20%
Tukwila International Boulevard Station 7% 64% 24%

Ridership

Service area (north to south) Total rides Rides per service hour
Mount Baker

(operated all day, 7 days per week)

 20,549 3
Columbia City

(operated all day, 7 days per week)

 43,039 6
Rainier Beach

(operates all day, 7 days per week)

 116,306 17
Othello

(operates all day, 7 days per week)

 68,969 10
Tukwila International Boulevard Station

(operates during peak hours on weekdays only)

 9,724 7

Othello and Rainier Beach represent three-fourths of Via to Transit trips to date, and are primarily funded by STBD. While Tukwila International Boulevard Station’s service area, which is funded by Metro, had lower daily ridership, it operated during peak hours and on weekdays only, while Seattle service is all day, seven days per week. Continuing the service in Tukwila provides access to transportation for a high percentage of residents with low incomes, people of color, and individuals with limited English proficiency.

map of Tukwila and southeast Seattle service areas

COVID-19 response

Social distancing and hygiene best practices will be incorporated into Via to Transit operations as the region continues to fight the spread of COVID-19. There are protocols in place for each of the four phases identified in Governor Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” plan; phases one and two include the following:

  • Private rides until further notice (note: multiple people from the same booking can ride together)
  • Passengers are asked to sit in the back of the van to increase social distancing
  • Barrier in between driver and passengers
  • Driver and passengers are required to wear face coverings or masks if they are able
  • Driver is provided with EPA-approved disinfecting product to wipe down the vehicle throughout their shift and vehicles will have an enhanced sanitization daily
  • In-app Wellness Checks for riders and drivers to confirm they are symptom free before using Via
  • In-app notifications to riders reinforcing local guidance on PPE, seating spacing, and hygiene
  • Drivers who are directly affected by COVID-19 will have access to paid sick leave

Priorities and funding

Metro launched Via to Transit in April 2019 as a 12-month research project in partnership with Sound Transit, the City of Seattle, and Via Transportation and with support from the Federal Transit Administration’s Mobility On Demand Sandbox Grant. The expiration of the voter-approved STBD at the end of the year, which funds a majority of Via to Transit’s service, coupled with Metro’s lost revenue due to COVID-19 means that Via’s second year launches in a different landscape.

Even in a budget constrained environment, Metro and City of Seattle are committed to providing mobility options in all parts of the region, and Via to Transit is one example of this commitment, especially given its proven track record of providing access to jobs, school, childcare, and more. With some cuts to bus service in place, reliable connections to transit hubs will be more important than ever. As restrictions are relaxed and ridership demand grows, Metro will continue to adjust service levels as resources allow.

To learn more about or to use Via to Transit, visit kingcounty.gov/metro/via-to-transit or download the app for iPhone or Android.

QUOTES

As the region faces economic challenges in response to COVID-19, providing access to opportunity in the form of jobs, school, childcare and other services is a priority for us. We are redeploying Via to Transit for second year in order to maximize our transportation network in areas where those needs are greatest, reflecting our commitment to create mobility for all – safely, equitably, and sustainably.

  • Dow Constantine, King County Executive

Via to Transit demonstrates how technology can serve as a solution for cities to expand public transit networks and provide safe, efficient, and affordable access to transportation for all. We are proud to extend the service in partnership with King County Metro and the City of Seattle, and to offer a solution that has a meaningful and positive impact on the community.

  • Daniel Ramot, Via CEO and co-founder

CUSTOMER FEEDBACK

I had a severe lower motor neuron injury in early January that resulted in needing a walker to get around. To continue using Link, I have relied on Via to get me to the station. The drivers are super-friendly and the service is reliable. I’m so grateful that it is there when I need it.

– Julie, Via to Transit customer

Via has cut my commute time significantly and allows me a warm seat on the Light Rail, which I cannot access from the bus route closest to me. This service has significantly impacted my quality of life and that of others living in my previously under-serviced area of unincorporated King County.

– Katherine, Via to Transit customer

When Via launched, I immediately tried it the following day, to work and from work. My morning commute went from one-and-a half-hours to an easy 40-minute commute. I’ve been able to meet and connect with neighbors during each ride. It’s a joy to see familiar drivers each day and be able to catch up. My partner and I have significantly been driving around town less and less.

– Pauline, Via to Transit customer