Publication Date: Sep 22, 2022
This is a transcript of a video interview with Wood Hudson on May 16, 2022 in Chicago, IL at the Mobility Innovation Collaborative workshop. Find these videos on the Mobility Learning Center here.
Tell us about yourself and your project.
I am Wood Hudson. I am a statewide Transit Planner with the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. We received an IMI grant from FTA to fund our rural micro transit deployment project, where we were bringing two rural transit agencies together to explore microtransit opportunities as a viable service for rural transit in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
What inspired your project?
What inspired our project is that we’ve had a keen interest in rural transportation and how to leverage some of our state funding and our state knowledge to bring about change and innovation in the way rural transit is delivered to rural citizens in the Commonwealth. We saw this grant as an opportunity to test some innovative technologies and learn lessons and develop some case studies about how rural transit could evolve using mobility technology, such as on-demand transit, app-based communication, and other technologies out there that look at taking existing kind of dial-a-ride services and adding a technology layer to that.
What are your project goals?
Our goal is really to explore the viability of microtransit technology as a solution for rural transit and for rural residents in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
How are you engaging with your end users?
As a State DOT, we are not actually in the business of operating transit. So our key stakeholders are actually the two transit agencies that we partner with, and they have done an extensive amount of outreach with their communities. They work in two very, very different communities. Although they’re rural, one is in the far Southwest corner of the Virginia area that has been hard hit by the opioid epidemic and significant economic disinvestment.
The other in our Eastern Tidewater region which has kind of traditional issues around rural communities, bedroom communities, and things like that. Both of these organizations are nonprofits that operate transit, as well as doing a lot of other things related to aging and community engagement and community support. They have really flexed and leveraged their existing relationships to make these microtransit deployments successful projects.
Tell us about your project partners and their role.
So our partners are two transit agencies: Bay Transit and Mountain Empire Older Citizens. They have really been the key implementers. As the state, we have been kind of the technical experts, the procurement experts, the funding flexors, and the kind of integrators and conveners.
It’s been the agencies that have been the boots on the ground; doing the operations, working with the technology on the day-to-day, providing feedback, engaging with their riders, and engaging with their communities. Without these partners, we wouldn’t have had a project, essentially.
How does your project impact your community?
They have impacted the communities in really positive ways. We just completed a rider survey. One of the things that we did in the rider survey was leave an open-ended question for people to provide feedback. We’ve had a significant amount of feedback such as, “This has really helped me get and maintain employment.” “This has helped me access treatment for addiction.” “This has helped me navigate the court systems.” You know, being able to show up on time for drug testing, for legal appointments, and things like that.
So we’ve seen a really significant impact because in operating in the rural areas, there is really no other game in town other than our traditional dial-a-ride type services, which require at least a 24-hour advanced booking. Whereas these microtransit deployments that we’ve launched allow the flexibility to book almost instantaneously. And in some cases, we’ve been able to extend the hours from that traditional kind of 9-5 window out to kind of more of 7 PM, which has allowed people to get more shift work, expand their opportunity for employment in different sectors.
How does the Shared-Use Mobility Center support your project and team?
SUMC has been a very, very big supporter of our project and our team. The monthly meetings have been extremely helpful for us to engage with our peer group. We’ve learned a lot of lessons from other people that have been in various different stages of their projects. Things that have informed our project, anything and everything from questions used in a public rider survey to how another agency overcame issues related to communication with their technology provider, and things like that.