The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has launched Owl Link, a pilot on-demand nighttime microtransit service intended to connect third-shift employees to their jobs in lower Bucks County. Operating in partnership with Via, the service operates every day of the week from 10:30 PM to 6 AM. Customers can request rides between a week and 30 minutes ahead of time by phone or the SEPTA Owl Link smartphone app, where they can connect between bus stops on SEPTA routes 14, 56, and 66 and a variety of employment sites within the designated service area. Some of the large employers in the designated service area include Amazon, Peloton, Estée Lauder Companies, and Lower Bucks Hospital. Rides are fare-free, but customers are expected to use their SEPTA Key Card for validation purposes. SEPTA was able to start the Owl Link service after receiving a Grant for Integrated Mobility from Via and will use its existing fleet of paratransit vehicles for this pilot.
Demand-response microtransit can fill a much needed gap in mobility services when fixed-route transit is not the most efficient option. Since fixed-route buses often limit or discontinue their services during the night, people working third-shift jobs in industries like warehousing, hospitality, and healthcare often have inadequate transportation options when planning their commutes. On the other hand, poor mobility options can affect an employer’s ability to recruit people to join their workforce. SEPTA Owl Link has the opportunity to show how a nighttime microtransit service can improve commuter options for third-shift employees in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States.