In July 2020, the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) and Marin Transit introduced Connect2Transit, their most recent iteration of a Mobility on Demand program providing customers with a suite of options that can supplement their transportation journeys within Marin County. Connect2Transit brings together three components:
Originally, these programs were offered separately from one another, during a period that can be referred to as Phase 1; realizing a need to bring these programs into a more integrated format, Marin Transit and TAM released a request for proposals (RFP) seeking a technology solution for a Mobility on Demand effort. 
This case study explores the history and context of Marin Transit and TAM’s Connect2Transit program, which is also referred to as Phase 2 (For more information on microtransit as a transportation mode, see SUMC’s Microtransit learning module). The Connect2Transit program offers a menu of transportation options for older adults, people with disabilities, and commuters across Marin County. At the same time, the Connect2Transit program delivers this integration through a single proprietary platform. It is important to consider the potential challenges and risks with this approach; while this case study does not go into detail on those measures, asking questions up-front and weighing them against the budget, long-term plans, and the ability for any technology platform to integrate across a system and its available mobility options are important considerations. Transportation agencies, municipal governments, and other stakeholders across the United States can use this case study to learn how they might adapt similar Mobility on Demand programs to their own communities and what technology solutions might best fit their needs.
Before Connect2Transit took its current form, two separate programs existed, both with similar goals of improving mobility options across Marin County. These Phase 1 programs included:
Although GETSMART was largely designed as a transportation demand management effort for commuters in Marin County, and Marin Transit Connect was created primarily for older adults and people with disabilities, their purposes and functions often overlapped. For example, both GETSMART and Marin Transit Connect had separate call centers for their respective programs under Phase 1. Ultimately, it made sense both logistically and financially for TAM and Marin Transit to partner and provide these services under one umbrella as customers could access all options through one app and one call center.
In October 2019, Marin Transit and TAM released an RFP for a Mobility on Demand software provider that could provide ride information for a joint Connect2Transit/Phase 2 effort that would collectively host new versions of both the GETSMART and the Marin Transit Connect programs. After reviewing bids from fifteen technology companies, planners overseeing Connect2Transit selected Uber as the technology partner based on the platform capabilities and the market reach of the company. The planners felt that the Uber app could functionally integrate both programs and that Uber’s name recognition could enhance marketing efforts for Connect2Transit customers.
In addition to giving customers the ability to request Connect2Transit rides through the Uber app, the integration of programs helped TAM and Marin Transit to consolidate their booking systems and call center functions. The Uber Central tool helps Marin Transit call center staff book rides for customers who do not have an Uber account, making Connect2Transit more accessible to older adults, people who need assistance, and those without smartphone access.
With the new agreement with Uber in place, the Marin Connect2Transit program began its operations in July 2020, providing microtransit rides and first-/last-mile connections to customers within a 2.5 mile radius of fourteen transit hubs in Marin County. It is important to note that because the program started during the COVID-19 pandemic, Uber’s shared-ride option, UberPool, is not available to Connect2Transit customers; instead, customers can use single-party Uber rides if they wish to receive a $5 discount from TAM for going to or from a transit hub.
Connect2Transit’s success as an initiative relies upon three partnership agreements:
With these agreements in place between the three parties, Marin Connect2Transit has these goals in mind:
The Marin Connect2Transit program has come about through funding from a variety of local taxes, federal dollars, and user fees paid by customers. Under Phase 1, before GETSMART and Marin Transit Connect coalesced to form Marin Connect2Transit, funds came largely from Section 5310 (Enhanced Mobility of Seniors & Individuals with Disabilities) of the federal Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, along with local funding from Measure AA, a county-wide, half-cent sales tax, and Measure B, revenue generated from a $10 county vehicle registration fees. Now that these programs have matured into Phase 2, program operations have become less reliant on federal support; instead, the program is largely supported through Marin County’s Measures AA and B.
Marin Connect2Transit operates through three components:
While marketing Connect2Transit has been challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic, Marin Transit has informed customers about the suite of services available to them through a variety of means including banners and postings at bus and SMART stations, e-blasts, blurbs in community newsletters, push notifications in the Uber app, updates on Marin Transit’s website, outreach through employee partners, and placing Uber decals on the Marin Transit Connect vans.
While all components of the Connect2Transit program are open to people of all ages and ranges of abilities, significant aspects of the program are intended to primarily serve people with disabilities and older adults. All Marin Transit Connect and public transit vehicles in Marin Transit, SMART, and Golden Gate Transit are wheelchair accessible, and wheelchair accessibility is available on request with Uber rides. Older adults and people with disabilities, through participation in Marin Access, Marin Transit’s paratransit program, get a discounted fare of $3 on all Marin Transit Connect rides independent of distance, origin, destination, and time. Since beginning operations, about half of the passengers on Marin Transit Connect vehicles have been Marin Access participants. As the pandemic subsides and awareness of Connect2Transit increases across the broader community, it is expected that ridership will increase on Marin Transit Connect vehicles as a result and that the proportion of Access customers will decrease as more people from the broader public use the services.
Launching Connect2Transit during the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to assess the program’s long-term potential. In July 2020, there were only 90 passenger trips on Marin Transit Connect; during Fiscal Year 2019-2020, the Phase 1 version of the same program averaged 1,300 monthly rides. While ridership on Connect2Transits’ offerings and public transit more broadly has declined because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Marin Transit has sought to alleviate concerns by enforcing strict social distancing guidelines on their vehicles, limiting Marin Transit Connect rides to just two passengers per microtransit vehicle and nine passengers per bus.
Fiscally, federal dollars through stimulus bills like the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA), and the American Rescue Plan Act have enabled Marin Transit to add more buses to their fixed routes, limiting the possibility of buses passing up customers at stops.  At the same time, federal dollars have also prevented the layoff of vehicle operators.
Marketing continues to be a challenge for the Connect2Transit program, especially as the program looks to serve older adults. Staff at Marin Transit saw that services from Uber could help them address this need given its name recognition and central booking platform. Through the software vendor’s Uber Central feature, call center employees can book rides for people requesting rides by phone, extending the usability of the program to people who may not have smartphones or do not feel comfortable using mobile apps. During Phase 1, Marin Transit also partnered with Technology4Life, a local non-profit that trains older adults on how to use software and technologies like computers and smartphones, as a means of reaching out to community members who might benefit from Marin Access or Connect2Transits’ offerings.
Beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, there are hopes that participation in Connect2Transit grows along with ridership of Marin Transit, Golden Gate Transit, and SMART. Phase 1 demonstrated that there was a need for additional microtransit and first-/last-mile mobility options in Marin County. Now that Marin Transit has developed a consolidated product with the Connect2Transit program, planners are hoping to get clearer data on shared mobility’s place in Marin County, a process that the pandemic has slowed.
In addition to Kaiser Permanente and Marin County serving as employer-partners for Connect2Transit, planners at Marin Transit and TAM are hoping to identify other employers, large and small, who are willing to sponsor first-/last-mile connections for their employees’ commutes through Marin Transit Connect and UberPool, when that line of service is reinstated by the company. Marin Transit also hopes that in the near future, Uber can incorporate mobile ticketing options for transit, making payments easier for customers of Marin Transit, Golden Gate Transit, and SMART.
TAM and Marin Transit’s creation of Connect2Transit is part of an emerging trend of American transit agencies serving as mobility managers. By combining the separate components of Phase 1 into the Connect2Transit program, TAM and Marin Transit hope to create an ecosystem within the Uber app where people have information about mobility options more readily available to them. For example, if someone opens the app with the original intent of booking an Uber ride, maybe they will also see that their trip could be served by a bus route or that Marin Transit Connect might also be a convenient option. Marin Transit and TAMs’ partnerships with Uber and Vivalon also play a critical role in helping them manage the scale and reach of their programming. Since both are small agencies, their agreements with Vivalon and Uber help them to outsource their staffing needs with Marin Transit Connect and subsidized ridehailing services respectively. In particular, Vivalon’s role as a local social service agency positions them uniquely to understand and serve the needs of people in Marin County.
As Connect2Transit matures, it will be important to see how its partnership with Uber evolves. If the program is successful and expands its scope to new modes or other private mobility operators, will that partnership accommodate these new solutions? While Uber’s partnership is beneficial to Marin Transit and TAM currently, resting this or any technology solution entirely on a single proprietary platform could have implications on a program, its operations, and financial sustainability. These are important questions to consider along with the long-term goals to identify what solution or set of solutions work best under different situations.
Watch a video interview with Cody Lowe, Planning Analyst at Marin Transit who oversaw the implementation of the Connect2Transit program.
Published on April 20, 2021