Microtransit Is a Big Solution for Rural Communities
Yolo County Transportation District reduces first mile, last mile gaps in transportation
July 5, 2022: Transportation in rural communities can be a challenge. The communities are often miles away from resources and, with a dispersed population, residents who rely on public transit must travel long distances to get to a traditional bus stop. Time is wasted on travel and infrequent services and long wait times for routes. Yolo County Transportation District (YCTD) leaders recognize the need to improve transit for rural communities and have found a solution in microtransit, or on-demand rideshare service. Unlike regular Yolobus service, which only serves certain bus stops and routes, microtransit will pick up and drop off passengers anywhere within preestablished service areas or “zones.”
Sitting on the southwestern edge of the county, the City of Winters has a small-town rural charm that reflects its long history as an agricultural hub. Winters is surrounded by orchards and farmland as far as the eye can see. Its 7,100-plus residents enjoy the peace of the valley while being only a 20-minute drive from surrounding cities like Vacaville and Davis. But a 20-minute drive, or around 15 miles, is far for residents who don’t or can’t drive. Public transportation becomes a lifeline for residents who need to go to the doctor, get out of town to see friends and family, or get to school.
“Microtransit allows people who live in rural communities to have access to reliable and affordable transportation on their own time,” shared Winters councilmember and YCTD board member Jesse Loren. Loren explained that the needs of a rural community are different; they don’t need fixed intercity transit. “Winters is only 2.9 square miles. We need to connect people to jobs and services outside of the city.”
YCTD’s microtransit service is called YOUR Ride (Yolobus Urban-Rural Ride) and serves people traveling in two microtransit zones: (1) the Winters/El Rio Villa zone, which services intracity Winters/El Rio Villa trips as well as trips from that area to/from Davis or Vacaville, and (2) Knights Landing, which services trips within the Knights Landing community as well as trips between Knights Landing and Woodland. “People are very relieved that they can get to their appointments without having a vehicle,” shared Councilmember Loren. “Gas prices are very high right now, so to be able to have an economical service that is reliable and affordable is a big asset to the community.”
Before YOUR Ride, the fixed bus routes serving Winters and Knights Landing were extremely limiting, and planners knew they could do better for residents. YCTD first developed their vision for better transit connections for rural communities during SACOG’s Civic Lab program in 2019. The result from their effort was a plan for a microtransit service and a way to fund it. The pilot originally started in the community of Knights Landing, but with the pandemic forcing regular bus route cuts in early 2020, the microtransit service was expanded and replaced service on some fixed bus routes.
Last year YCTD completed a comprehensive study of all routes systemwide to help make services more efficient. They found that it would be better for the agency to permanently replace the two fixed routes that formerly served Winters and Knights Landing with microtransit. Now residents have more flexibility both in time and in destination.
“This story may even be more exciting in the future,” teased Kristen Mazur, senior transportation planner at YCTD. She says that YOUR Ride has been so successful that the agency is working on an expansion to the City of Woodland. With the addition of some technology upgrades, YCTD expects microtransit will continue to get better for rural communities.