L.A. Metro, the country's third-largest public transit agency by ridership, is turning to the private sector to find out how it should best design its on-demand, micro-transit project.

The agency is contracting with RideCo, NoMad Transit and Transdev to come up with three feasibility studies showing how a micro-transit system — where small transit vehicles offer rides in a door-to-door type of service similar to taxis or ride-hailing companies like Uber — should be structured. 

“I think each of them brings some different qualities to the table,” said Joshua Schank, chief innovation officer for L.A. Metro. “Some of them have more experience, directly, providing this type of service. Some of them have more experience providing service in coordination with public transit agencies. Some of them have more experience in planning this type of service. Some of them have more experience in working directly on their own to provide this type of service,” he added.

L.A. Metro awarded $885,247 to the three contractor teams following a request for proposals process. They will have six months to file their studies with L.A. Metro, which would like to launch its micro-transit “pretty quickly after that,” said Schank.

RideCo, based in Waterloo, Canada, uses a “cloud based ‘dynamic shuttle’ software platform to provide on-demand shared rides in dynamically routed buses, vans and cars,” according to the company’s website.

NoMad Transit is a subsidiary of the Via Transportation ride-sharing company, based in New York City. The company also operates in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Transdev provides multimodal transportation and operations with some 12,000 vehicles in North America. The company is based in Maryland. Transdev has partnered with officials in Tampa, Fla., to offer on-demand transit services.

The three companies will each offer their own version of what L.A.’s micro-transit system should look like, and what area it will serve.

“The idea is each of them will deliver a feasibility study to us. And that feasibility study will help us determine where the micro-transit service could go. And we can then select from those three opportunities where to deploy the service,” said Schank.

L.A. Metro could find all the studies are great and decide it wants to do all three, according to Schank. “Or they may come back, and we say ‘none of these really work for us, and we’re not going to do anything.’”

A willingness to explore micro-on-demand transit is not new. A number of transit agencies across the country have launched pilot programs to test-drive the concept. What makes the approach by L.A. Metro unique, said Schank, is the move to first conduct a feasibility study to get a better idea of how the system should work.

“It’s really getting the private sector to put a lot more skin in the game, earlier in the process, before we leap into the service,” Schank explained.

The effort comes as L.A. Metro — like many transit agencies nationwide — struggles to grow ridership amid cheap gas, rising car ownership rates, and other factors placing downward pressure on transit ridership. In 2017, ridership on L.A. Metro’s buses and trains dropped 4.4 percent from the year before, according to L.A. Metro statistics.

“I think that there’s a lot of interest in this technology and how transit agencies can better utilize it to better service their customers — no question about it,” said Schank.