Transportation accounts for approximately a third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and more than half of those emissions come from passenger and light-duty vehicles.

In addition to transitioning more of the country’s passenger cars to low- to zero-emission electricity, increasing American’s use of public transportation has great potential to reduce transportation emissions.

But commuting habits are hard to change. And public transit leaders – especially in suburban and exurban areas – are looking for new ways to get car commuters onto light rail and buses.

One hurdle is the “first and last mile,” the distance between a person’s home or office and where they’d get on public transit, and the distance between where a person would get off transit and their final destination. Make it easier to use transit, and more people will.

 

All-electric Shuttles in 3 Community Settings

Over the course of the last year, Pecan Street teamed with Capital Metro – the transportation authority in the Austin area – to test the efficacy of an electric shuttle service that would connect Central Texans between popular Austin destinations and the region’s transportation system.

The Electric Last Mile pilot (ELM) tested three areas: the Domain, a popular retail/entertainment/residential area in north Austin; the Mueller neighborhood, a master-planned, mixed-use redevelopment in central Austin; and downtown Austin, near the city’s convention center and Capital Metro’s light rail transit stop.

Pecan Street’s Electric Last Mile research tested all-electric shuttle services in three community settings. Shown here: pick up (green dots) and drop off (red dots) locations along the shuttle route in downtown Austin.
Pecan Street’s Electric Last Mile research tested all-electric shuttle services in three community settings. Shown here: pick up (green dots) and drop off (red dots) locations along the shuttle route near the Domain, a popular mixed-use development in north Austin.
Pecan Street’s Electric Last Mile research tested all-electric shuttle services in three community settings. Shown here: pick up (green dots) and drop off (yellow dots) locations along the shuttle route in Austin’s Mueller neighborhood

Six-passenger all-electric shuttles provided local connectivity services within the three pilot areas – providing first- and last-mile connectivity to Austin public transit system as well as micro-transit (circulator transit within a small area) within each demonstration site. Shuttles in the Mueller neighborhood operated on-demand within a fixed area that connected bus stops to employers and shopping destinations. Shuttles in the Domain and downtown operated on a fixed route with set stops though riders could request a custom drop-off location within a three-block radius of the route. Pecan Street developed a mobile app that provided ride-hailing capabilities for the shuttles as well as integrated trip planning with Capital Metro-operated transit.

The project team tracked each stop, passenger boarding and deboarding, and passenger preferences that were obtained through various surveys. In total, the ELM pilot provided 29,206 rides. Pricing trials were conducted in the last three months of the demonstration to help public transit agencies understand how various pricing programs could incentivize or de-incentivize use of public transit services.

Key Findings

The pilot revealed some promising trends and significant challenges.

  1. People loved the service. It was quick, simple to use, and fun.
  2. The majority of passengers used the shuttle service instead of taking a trip in their personal vehicle.
  3. In some locations, the shuttles were an effective way of getting people to and from transit stops. In others, however, the service was used more as a short-trip taxi, independent of any consideration of using mass transit.

Overall, the project highlighted the potential for cities, towns and transit authorities to reduce car use and traffic via clean, electric short-haul micro transit. Pecan Street is working with the project team to develop an in-depth report of findings that will help mass transit providers and regional governments cost-effectively adopt some last mile best practices.