Last mile connections
The "last-mile" or "first and last-mile" connection describes the beginning or end of an individual trip made primarily by public transportation. In many cases, people will walk to transit if it is close enough. However, on either end of a public transit trip, the origin or destination may be difficult or impossible to access by a short walk. This gap from public transit to destination is termed a last mile connection.
Intercity rail is a common example: a traveler reaches their local train station, but after getting off the train has no way to access the final destination. The traveler might have driven to the train station at the start, or perhaps they took a local bus or walked. The train carries them a long distance to another city where the final destination is too far to walk to from the station. Without some form of connection in the destination city, travelers become effectively stranded near the end. This example can be applied to any mode of transit.
Last Mile Connections
In reality, the last mile connection is more complex than the example above. Walking is often an acceptable connection, but typically only for short distances. Transit agencies may be concerned about major destinations that are more than 1/4 mile away from the nearest transit stop. Sometimes even walking is not an option, perhaps because of lacking infrastructure. In other cases, a long-distance line like a train may serve destinations with infrequent or nonexistent transit service.
There are many strategies for providing last mile connections:
Pedestrians and Cyclists
ADA-compliant pedestrian infrastructure is a foundation of local travel anywhere, and is especially important in planning transit service. Transit planners must be cautious about assessing a potential rider base by simply drawing a 1/4 mile circle around stops. Geographic or urban barriers may prevent walking to transit.
Bicycling extends the range of mobility and improves access, if it is safe (or even possible) to bike. It is important for transit agencies to provide high-quality Bike Parking At Transit Stations. Additionally, use of bikes differs by mode. For example, many agencies provide bicycle racks on the front of a bus, but will not allow bikes inside . This means that on low-frequency bus systems, a two or three-position bike rack may significantly limit the cycling-bus combination at peak. If the bike rack on the bus is full and there is no bike parking available near busy stops, some potential riders may choose not to take the bus. For rail systems, some agencies allow bikes on board, especially for light rail, but may not for street cars. Regional heavy and commuter rail systems sometimes have specific racks in train cars . Foldable bicycles are growing in popularity with commuters in some areas and may be allowable where standard bikes are not (such as on board a streetcar).
Bike share is a next-step to providing good infrastructure. Advanced bike share programs may be more challenging to implement in smaller, isolated cities. Instead, it may be more practical to make arrangements with local bike shops to have information or bike rentals near transit.
Information is not a physical connection, but is critical for transit users to successfully navigate a system. Wayfinding can be a city-wide visual style for signs directing to common destinations, or as simple as a good bus schedule pamphlet. Agencies should carefully present information, focusing on clarity and simplicity. Information should be presented as if the reader is unfamiliar with the area to accommodate visitors and newcomers. Wayfinding can also include out-of-vehicle experience.
Local transit connections to regional transit can include shuttle buses or regular stops by fixed-route service. For example, Emeryville, CA, provides a free bus shuttle system connecting to the nearest BART station. Connecting local and regional service can be challenging. If the local service is infrequent, long waits for connections will turn off passengers. Timing local service to connect, or even wait for regional service is an option, but may decrease reliability elsewhere on the route.
Taxis are a heavily-regulated, but otherwise overlooked alternative for last mile connections. While taxis proliferate around airports, hotels, and nightclubs, their role in public transit is less clear . Transit planners may consider contracting with taxi services to enhance transit access. In some cities, especially in tourist centers and warmer climates, "pedi-cabs" (bicycle taxis) can also provide these connections over a smaller area.
Car Sharing and Ride Sharing Apps
Car sharing, such as ZipCar, Car2Go, and many others, can provide the highest level of connection and flexibility. Availability of shared cars around major transit stations can allow transit riders to reach their final destination quickly. However, this is probably most practical for occasional transit users and for long-distance modes like intercity rail. Further research is needed.
Another emerging application of smartphone technology in transportation is ride sharing apps such as Lyft, Uber, and Sidecar. These apps match up vetted drivers with riders in an ad-hoc taxi-like system . Although the ability to manage or directly incorporate this new alternative into the transit network remains in question, transit planners should be aware of the existence and growth in the ride sharing app market.
Microtransit is a privately owned and operated shared transportation system that can offer fixed routes and schedules, as well as flexible routes and on-demand scheduling. The vehicles generally include vans and buses. In the United States, public transportation agencies are experimenting with on-demand, shared, and dynamic models to augment traditional fixed-route bus and train services. These services, referred to as microtransit, are enabled by technology similar to ride sharing apps. The private sector provides the service, but with the help of taxpayer subsidy in most cases.
Zoning and Density
Although outside the control of most transit agencies, zoning and density affect how transit agencies deliver service. In some areas, a light rail or major bus line may not serve the full potential customer base because low density and sprawl spread customers out of walking range. Planning for park-and-rides at major stations can encourage some users to make the short drive and use transit for the majority of the trip. However, working with communities to encourage density around transit is important.