The Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority could bring its on-demand SmartDART program to Falmouth by next summer.
DART is the CCRTA’s dial-a-ride-transportation service and must be booked a day in advance. On Thursday of last week, October 8, CCRTA administrator Thomas S. Cahir told the Falmouth Transportation Management Committee the authority’s new SmartDART app will give riders more flexibility in booking trips.
“It is an on-demand app and is based very much like Uber or Lyft, except it is much less expensive,” Mr. Cahir said. “It is $3 to use it, and we got a grant to start it. A pilot program is underway, exclusively in the Town of Barnstable, but we’ve learned a lot in the past year developing this app. It is really going to be a game changer.”
In addition to being a smartphone application, SmartDART rides can be booked by calling the CCRTA. The pilot program debuted in Barnstable on September 28. Describing the service as “very helpful for Falmouth,” he said SmartDART could come to town by next summer.
Christopher Kennedy, mobility manager for the CCRTA, said the SmartDART pilot program is off to a promising start.
“It summons one of our vehicles, a minivan, to pick them up on a last-minute trip,” Mr. Kennedy said. “We didn’t have that capability before. In the Barnstable area, it has actually been very successful. In just over the past couple of weeks, we’ve had over 100 downloads and done over 1,200 trips.”
Based on these numbers, he said, the CCRTA is confident in its ability to expand SmartDART service to additional Cape Cod communities, including Falmouth.
“We really think it will bring a lot of value to the area,” he said.
Mr. Cahir said the on-demand nature of the program will help reduce reliance on personal vehicles.
“This SmartDART is instantaneous,” he said. “We’d have these minivans in various regions around the Cape and could come get you and get you where you need to go. If it is a longer trip, we could get you to one of our fixed-route services and get you anywhere across Cape Cod much more efficiently than we have done in the past. We are very excited about this.”
Committee member Alison Leschen asked about the possibility of expanding fixed route service.
“Public transportation always seems like a chicken-and-egg problem,” Ms. Leschen said. “You need ridership to justify a lot of run, but if you don’t have the runs, you don’t get the ridership because it is very inconvenient because it doesn’t go very often.”
Mr. Cahir acknowledged that headways, the amount of times between runs, makes a huge difference. Ms. Leschen agreed, noting the frequency of trips can play a major role in a person’s decision to use public transportation or not.
“My sense, as a consumer of public transportation, is that until you reach a critical threshold of number of runs per hour, or frequency, I am not going to use it, even though I love public transportation and am motivated to use it,” she said. “If it is once per hour and I miss it, then I have to wait for an hour. Whereas if it runs every 10 or 15 minutes and I miss one, I only have to wait 10 or 15 minutes. If you’re not at whatever that threshold is, that tolerance for waiting, then you are going to have really low ridership.”
Mr. Kennedy said, when evaluating new routes or the frequency of routes, the CCRTA considers the efficiency as well as the cost per passenger.
“When we look at adding services, we look at areas where we have that demand and highest ridership,” he said.
SmartDART will address areas that cannot be served by more-frequent fixed route service.
“The idea of SmartDART is for us to service those areas at different types, more efficiently,” he said.
Noting the size of Falmouth, Mr. Cahir said SmartDART will allow the CCRTA to access pockets of the community that are otherwise challenging to get to. Using the Falmouth Service Center as an example, he said both Brenda B. Swain and Jane F. Perry have requested bus service to that area. Ms. Perry said this remains a goal.
She expressed excitement about the potential for SmartDART in Falmouth.
“I think it is a great idea, and I hope that when it does come to Falmouth, you will ask me to be the first rider of that service or to help me launch it in Falmouth,” Ms. Perry said.
She also asked about the hours of operation of SmartDART. Mr. Kennedy said the pilot program in Barnstable runs Monday to Friday from 7 AM to 5 PM.
“We are definitely looking to expand those hours, a little bit later and a little bit earlier, once we move down to Falmouth,” he said, noting the Barnstable program is being used to evaluate what the demand is and when the service is used.
By the time the program comes to Falmouth, Mr. Kennedy said, the CCRTA will be able to offer weekend service as well. Ms. Perry advocated for service through 9 PM as well as year-round Sunday service.