Portland, Ore., Trip-Planning App Goes Multimodal

TriMet, the city's public transit system, is pilot-testing a new trip-planning app that partners with Uber, Lyft and other outside transportation providers, giving local travelers a number of mobility options.

by / March 18, 2018
TriMet, the public transit system for the Portland, Ore., metro, releases a new trip-planning app that partners with Uber and other outside transportation providers.

One of the largest public transit providers on the West Coast has wrapped ride-hailing and bike-shares into its trip-planning application, signaling another move toward bundling multiple forms of mobility under one app.

Moves like the one by TriMet, which serves the Portland, Ore. metro, are often heralded by transit and city planning officials as they search for approaches to make it easier and more convenient for commuters and others to choose transportation options that might be more sustainable and shareable. Additionally, the efforts by transit agencies to court revamps of their digital platforms which take in multimodal transportation also stem from a need to grow ridership amid several years of declines. TriMet statistics show ridership on the Portland transit system fell 1.9 percent in the 2018 fiscal year, compared to the year before – a fairly modest amount compared to losses experienced at a number of transit agencies, nationwide.

For now, the trip-planning app, which is still in beta-testing mode, only allows riders to route their trip.

“Our long-term goal is to incorporate the ability to plan, book and pay for your entire trip with one click in the application,” said Roberta Alstadt, manager of media relations and communications at TriMet.

“We decided to publicly launch the trip planner at this stage as it does make it easier for riders to plan multimodal trips, and includes links to connect the user to the service,” she added. “For example, when you plan a Transit + Uber trip, the ‘Book Ride’ feature in the itinerary sends all the information to Uber so that users can easily confirm the ride.”

The TriMet system also interfaces with BIKETOWN, an app-based bike-rental service operated by Motivate, a bike-share company now owned by Lyft. SHARE NOW, formerly Car2Go, is also a partner on the TriMet trip-planning platform, which uses real-time locations of bikes and cars to link riders with those transportation modes. Users can search destinations using addresses, business names and even landmarks.  

“By partnering with private companies, TriMet makes it easier for people to get to work, school, appointments or any place they need to go in the Portland metro area,” said TriMet’s Manager of Mobility & Location-Based Services Bibiana McHugh, in a statement. “The new trip-planner will help our customers make informed decisions about their travel options, including the first and last parts of their trips where a bus or train alone doesn’t provide full access.”

The revamped trip-planning app has been in development since early 2017, said Altstadt. Other transit agencies have also taken steps to make planning, booking and paying for transportation across multiple sources more seamless. Los Angeles Metro restructured its Transit Access Pass (TAP) rider-account system to include to include the city’s new Metro Bike Share network, a bike-share operation launched by Metro and is now available in neighborhoods across the city. Metro Transit in St. Louis, Mo. recently announced its new partnership with Transit app, which lets riders plan and pay for trips across multiple modes like ride-hailing or bike-sharing, as well as get real-time information on the location of buses and other vehicles.

Working through the many details associated with partnering with third-party transportation providers is generally one of the more formidable challenges to structuring multimodal platforms, said Altstadt.

“The most difficult challenge was working with Uber and Lyft on the terms of use for their data,” she explained. “Their policies prohibit use of their data in applications that include competitors.  As a result, we do not show side-by-side comparisons.”

It’s not entirely clear how long the beta-testing phase in Portland will run. Officials plan to use the time to tweak the system and work in feedback from riders.

“During the pilot phase, we will continue to engage with our riders, seeking feedback and adding new features,” said Altstadt. “We expect to move the new trip planner to our home page, trimet.org, later this year.”

Skip Descant Staff Writer

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.

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