Submitted by Whatcom Transportation Authority
In 2021, WTA will introduce a pilot project in the city of Lynden, to test whether on-demand van service can improve access to public transportation in a small city. Eighty percent of funding for this pilot project ($720,000) will come from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA’s) Integrated Mobility Innovations Grant Program.
Like many agencies that serve both urban areas and small cities, WTA finds the standard offerings of fixed route and paratransit service—which meet people’s needs extremely well in densely populated areas—to be less effective for residents of small cities. This pilot project will test whether on-demand service could increase the effectiveness and usage of public transportation in a small city. Using a mobile app, Lynden residents will be able to hail a ride to any destination within the City of Lynden, in a WTA-operated van. Though it will be open to everyone, marketing will target seniors, people with disabilities, and people with limited incomes.
WTA’s Lynden pilot project was one of twenty-five projects in twenty-three states to receive Integrated Mobility Innovations (IMI) Funding. The purpose of the IMI program is to support projects that use innovative technologies and processes to improve access to public transportation, increase public transportation efficiency, and enhance the overall rider experience.
In a press release, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said, “These $20.3 million in federal grants will help communities nationwide enhance their transportation systems to make it easier for people to use transit, especially older adults and people with disabilities.”
WTA will work with community partners to design the service, as well as to monitor its success. For example, Lynden’s Family Care Network and Lynden Library are interested to learn to what extent missed medical appointments, or limited library access result from a lack of reliable transportation. WTA will work with these organizations and others to measure potential improvements.
WTA’s General Manager Pete Stark said, “We’re excited to offer this new service in Lynden, and to test this innovative approach. What we learn could help WTA, as well as transit agencies throughout the nation, improve access to public transportation in smaller communities.”
WTA applied for the grant in July 2019. Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has created major challenges for public transportation. This pilot project is currently scheduled to begin in early 2021.