Cities have a new planning tool to fold ride-sharing into public transit systems

Via is launching a new product designed to help cities plan how on-demand rides and fixed route transit, like buses and subways, can work together. This is the first time since Via acquired startup Remix in March that the company is offering a product that combines Remix’s collaborative mapping and transit-planning tools with its own on-demand transit data.

Until now, Via would offer Remix’s services analyzing data to help cities plan out things like public transportation services or where to build a new bike lane. Adding this tool to the mix allows cities to model which routes can be replaced with flexible ride-sharing services and which ones would benefit from increased bus or light rail service. The new software is already being beta tested in nearly a dozen cities, where planners are able to evaluate a city’s metro or bus network based on ridership, demographics and service quality while simultaneously determining potential zones for ride-sharing services.

Via says its on-demand planning tool is the first product that truly helps cities visualize how on-demand services, such as those offered by companies like Via, RideCo, Treepz or Swvl, can become part of the public transit system. While the new tool is currently focused on ways to implement shared rides, it’s easy to imagine expanding the services to include things like micromobility zone planning.

“Previously, on-demand was kind of in its own world, siloed into special projects, and then fixed route was the purview of typical strategic planning teams,” founder and SVP of Remix by Via Tiffany Chu told TechCrunch. “Now, we’re going to be combining those two worlds together to more holistically help cities understand the allocation of resources before implementation.”

Over the years, Remix has received hundreds of product requests for this type of tool, particularly from rural agencies or second-tier cities that don’t have a public transit system that’s robust enough to handle the city’s mobility needs, according to Chu. As cities try to reach their carbon emissions goals, they are on the lookout for ways to get communities with high car ownership to mode shift.

The on-demand planning tool’s smart algorithm relies on data like demographics, population density, job makeup, car ownership status, geography and land use to help cities evaluate where it makes the most sense to deploy a flexible system in the context of what public transit they already have. The goal is by no means to cannibalize public transit, but rather to enhance it, according to Chu.

An agency’s interaction with the tool is fairly simple. A city planner draws a zone on a map, which immediately populates relevant statistics based on data from existing flexible and on-demand services around the world, including Via’s over 500 global partnerships and nearly 100 million rides with Remix’s intelligent transport planning software.

“And you can say, ‘If we have the budget for 10 vehicles, what would the waiting time be?’ Or if you want to say, ‘I want to ensure a five-minute wait time for an on-demand service, maybe that tells me I’m going to need 15 vehicles instead of 10,'” said Chu. “It helps you be very logical about your resources as opposed to this hand-wavy planning that was previously how a lot of these on-demand zones were planned.”

In Seattle, Via has been working with the King County Metro to plan transit that links commuters with the fairly new light rail service that runs north to south, and soon, east to west. The county wants to help people get to the train service without necessarily constructing huge parking structures next to the stations, so it’s been partnering with Via to determine the best way to deploy on-demand zones around all of the new light rail station openings.

“Overall, on-demand planning was super helpful as a starting point for understanding where to draw our service areas and how much service we can provide with our current budget,” said innovative mobility senior planner Casey Gifford in a statement. “As a non-service planner, I was able to draft proposals and have data-driven, educated conversations with my service planning colleagues.”

Miami-Dade County has been working with Remix for the past two years to redesign its whole transit network, which means there will be cuts to lower performing fixed routes that were only servicing a handful of people.

“I sat down next to the director and drew an on-demand zone to substitute a low-performing fixed route,” said Carlos Cruz-Casas, assistant director of Miami-Dade County’s Department of Transportation, in a statement. “I was able to show that with the same number of vehicles, we can offer better service and save resources that could be reallocated into increasing fixed-route frequency on higher demand routes.”

This article previously referred to the new on-demand planning tool as Remix’s, which is a subsidiary of Via’s.