Publicly owned microtransit has recently emerged as a promising solution for connecting suburban and rural transportation disadvantaged populations to employment and other important destinations. As a public transportation service, microtransit typically provides low, fixed trip rates, and does not rely on pricing mechanisms such as dynamic pricing to balance supply and demand. Although avoiding high rates and dynamic pricing is particularly appropriate for low-income, vulnerable population groups, it can lead to significant delays during the morning and afternoon peak with important consequences on the users, such as missed medical appointments and wages. Work and medical trips have time constraints, but other trips may be more flexible and could happen in off-peak periods to reduce service delays and missed critical trips. Fulfilling a Smart & Connected Communities (S&CC) vision, this planning grant focuses on technologically enabled and community-supported solutions for distributing travel demand over time for on-demand public transportation services in an equitable manner, without the exclusive or even primary use of traditional pricing incentives. An interdisciplinary team of faculty members and researchers will engage with communities in North Carolina that have piloted microtransit systems to advance this research and gain a better understanding of the community needs, preferences, and capacities. This grant has the potential to lead to an enhanced public microtransit paradigm, with fewer missed or delayed critical trips and quality-of-life improvements for the transportation disadvantaged.

This research will advance our understanding of the feasibility of, and tradeoffs involved in enabling and incentivizing prosocial behavior in public microtransit, including volunteering to shift one's trip time to accommodate others, share a ride, cooperate with other users to improve outcomes for the user community, and prioritize a transportation disadvantaged user or a critical trip. It will investigate how artificial intelligence can be applied in facilitating prosocial behavior in a trip scheduling environment by reducing the cognitive burden placed on users. During the planning grant period, the team will organize a workshop to gather knowledge from various stakeholders, including planning and transportation agencies and community-based organizations. Focus groups with community members will be assembled to conduct semi-structured interviews and collect information on willingness to share rides and information with other users, flexibility of schedule throughout the day, and the type of information about other users that would evoke empathy and prosocial behavior.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Eleni Bardaka
Dr. Eleni Bardaka is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering (CCEE) at NCSU.
Performance Period: 10/01/2021 - 09/30/2022
Institution: North Carolina State University
Award Number: 2125447