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King County Metro will experiment with ride-hailing app

With a responsive, municipal shuttle, Metro hopes to make transit easier to use—starting with the Eastside

A Ride2 shuttle.
Courtesy of King County

As the Seattle area grows, it’s become increasingly difficult to find parking at park and rides, making taking the bus or train a little difficult for people living off transit corridors. Efforts to address these challenges are often referred to as first and last-mile solutions—or micromobility or microtransit—and so far, the local space has been largely occupied by private providers, like Uber, Lyft, and bike-share companies.

Later this month, though, King County Metro is experimenting with its own ride-hailing app, albeit on a smaller scale. Starting October 23, Eastside commuters within two or three miles of the Eastgate Park and Ride will be able to summon a shuttle service—with wheelchair-accessible shuttles available upon request—to carry them to and from their transit connections.

The shuttle, called Ride2, is operated by Chariot and Ford Smart Mobility. To use the shuttle, users can download the Ride2 Park & Ride app and request a ride. Users will be picked up and dropped off either at their door or within a block or so, sharing a ride with other passengers. Ideally, passengers will be picked up within 10 to 15 minutes of their request—although trips can be scheduled up to 12 hours in advance—and reach Eastgate within 15 to 20 minutes. The shuttle operates during rush hours only, weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m. and from 4 to 8 p.m., and all trips must head to or from the park and ride.

The service area of Metro’s first responsive shuttle.
Courtesy of King County Metro

This shuttle is the first of a few that King County is planning as part of a year-long pilot. Service will be free for the first few months, then cost the same as a bus ride. Shuttles will be equipped to accept ORCA cards.

King County Metro isn’t the first transit authority to experiment with responsive shuttles. The Eno Transportation Institute report Uprouted examined case studies in municipal microtransit, including a similar year-long pilot in Kansas City called Bridj, also an app-based shuttle service that operated during rush hour (but was more designed for getting people to and from work). The report found that users were turned off by its limited service hours, although it attracted a small, loyal following. A Santa Clara Valley microtransit experiment met similar results.

One successful model was in Alameda and Contra Costa counties in the East Bay area, where the transit authority replaced a low-performing bus line with a responsive shuttle. Users in the area could take the shuttle home from a BART rail line. It ended up being successful, the report found, because of extensive outreach, including both flyers and bus ads—and, ultimately, the service was even revenue-neutral. The one major drawback: Rides have to be scheduled farther in advance outside of an app.

Metro plans to launch Ride2 in other King County transit hubs over the next several months.