Texas is a big state. Serving the mobility needs of rural residents is important. Public transit plays a key role in getting people where they need to go and might play a future role in getting goods to people.
As part of a Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) project, researchers at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) are finding new ways to help rural public transportation systems provide innovative goods-delivery services and produce additional revenue.
TTI Associate Transportation Researcher Zachary Elgart explains, “It all began with a question: can rural transit play a role in facilitating last-mile delivery for package companies to improve the quality of life for residents, while generating revenues for the transit system?”
Rural transit provides a basic service for people without another option. Thinking outside the box can help agencies improve not only their level of service but also the quality of life in rural areas by better integrating the agencies with the communities.
“The idea was to create a new business model for these services,” Elgart says. “It’s a real opportunity for rural transit agencies to generate more revenue and deliver packages quickly and inexpensively to those living outside the standard delivery areas of major package companies.”
This fall, researchers will work with a rural transit agency and a private package-delivery company to facilitate the launch of a pilot transit-based package-delivery program. After holding workshops with stakeholders, they created a guidebook to serve as a blueprint and will make changes to it based on lessons learned.
“The workshops taught us that there are many options available for the pilot,” Elgart says. “One agency might function as a storehouse for packages; another might deliver the packages to their final destination. There is also potential for a transit agency to sell services on behalf of the package company.”
Another growth area for rural transit agencies is the market for transporting agricultural specimens, such as water or soil samples, for testing. Agricultural specimens are often time-sensitive packages that need to get to their destinations quickly and at a moment’s notice. By coordinating service with intercity bus companies, rural transit agencies can provide access to on-demand delivery services.
TxDOT Business Operations Project Manager Kelly Kirkland says, “Rural public transportation operators are very interested in innovations that can improve service and develop new funding sources. Additionally, rural transit operators’ staff and management generally reside in their service areas and are very knowledgeable about their customers’ needs. This firsthand knowledge greatly benefits the evaluation of new ideas and strategies.”