Lehigh Acres Microtransit
LeeTran has proposed eliminating the 515 fixed Route (solid yellow line below) and replacing it with an on-call flexible microtransit route, which would service the blue-shaded square area in the graphic below.) A $3.5 million dollar Park and Ride would be built off Roberts Rd. (indicated by the "P" symbol below,) subsidized mostly with grant money. Passengers would be shuttled by the microtransit van to the Park and Ride to await pick up by the 110 Bus into Fort Myers. Lehigh residents could also drive their cars to the Park and Ride so that they could take the bus into Fort Myers as well.
The 515 Route, which the microtransit bus will replace, serviced 56,548 passengers in 2017:
The 515 Route averaged 11 passengers an hour in 2017 (56,548 passengers divided by 5000 yearly service hours equals 11.3 passengers per hour.) According to the latest articles on microtransit, the maximum number of passengers microtransit has been able to service on the average has been about six passengers an hour, as attested in the following article:
Moreover, transit expert Jarrett Walker says fixed routes are, by their geometry and nature, always more efficient than flexible routes, as attested in these articles:
The 515 only carries 1.3% of the total number of passengers in the system (56,548 passengers on the 515 Route divided by 4,211,433 total passengers in the system equals 1.3%.) LeeTran is spending $500,000 on the 515 Route out of a budget of 23.5 million dollars which equals 2.1%, a loss of .8% which equals about $188,000 a year. While a microtransit route would cost only $300,000, ridership would go down by half. Microtransit represents 1.3% in expenditure, but it would service only .7% of ridership, so that would come out to a loss of $141,000 a year. Nevertheless, LeeTran would save $200,000 a year up front by doing away with the 515 Fixed Route, so together with the operational savings of running microtransit ($200,000 plus $47,000) close to a quarter-million dollars a year on LeeTran's operating budget could be saved. But is this a transit improvement, or a step backwards, saving money at the expense of serving the people of Lehigh Acres?
Could there be any other way to salvage service to the people of Lehigh Acres without losing money? One possibility would be to utilize the 515 Route more efficiently by having it do double duty: First, in servicing Leland Heights and Joel Blvd. up to 12th St. E., and secondly, by having it travel to the Hilton Hotel on Alico Road to meet up with the 250 and 260 Routes every third trip. To see how this could be accomplished, please check out the page on Route 115. Adding the Daniels Road Corridor to the 115 Route would save literal hours in express commuting from Lehigh to FGCU, the Airport and Gulf Coast Town Center (and back) [see the Lehigh Analysis.] This would make the 115 a very attractive route, and it would be a definite incentive to increase ridership and help balance the budget for LeeTran.
To service more people in the outlying areas of Lehigh Acres, LeeTran could employ a practice that it presently uses on the Cape Coral Route 40. Every day, a supplemental route helps the Route 40 main bus carry passengers from 6:30am to 9:27am in the morning, and then again from 1:50pm to 3:44pm in the afternoon. In this way man-hours are kept to a minimum, but basic services are still provided.
In the same way, a supplemental route could also run for a few hours in the morning and evening in Lehigh Acres, which not only could provide public transportation for mostly everyone in Lehigh on a shoestring budget, but the coverage area would be expanded from the shaded square below to nearly the length and breadth of Lehigh Acres:
AM MORNING ROUTE -- 5:49am to 7:42am
PM EVENING ROUTE -- 5:52pm to 7:42pm
This auxiliary route would run part-time for six hours a day instead of the normal sixteen hours for a full-time fixed route. Although it is designed to run as a part-time fixed route, it could still be "semi-flexible," making slight course deviations to pick people using a pickup app close to where they live (near the blue line,) but the idea is that those pick-up times would be within the designated route times in the morning and evening hours -- not running all day long. Practically and financially, this would offer basic services to people who need to get to work, or spend a day outside of Lehigh, but it wouldn't provide and it isn't designed to be an all-day "taxi" for people to call throughout the entire day.
In terms of finances, this auxiliary route should run at about $187,500 a year [three-eighths of the normal cost of a fixed-route -- maybe less if the bus is smaller.] Currently, Lee County spends about $13 million a year on public transportation, with about $6 million in subsidies from State and Federal Government, and about $4.5 million on farebox revenue, for a total operating budget of about $23.5 million dollars. Spending $187,500 (the amount to run this auxiliary route) amounts to about .8% of the entire operating budget. Running this auxiliary route plus the enhanced 515 Route, as opposed to eliminating the 515 Route and adding only a microtransit route would be about $434,500, or 1.85% of the total operating budget. However, at some point, someone in the Lee County government has to ask what kind of business or service the County wants to run and at what cost. Should the County opt to save $434,500 offering a service where it takes a Lehigh customer four and half hours to get to the Airport and back, (and why would anyone want to park their car at a Park and Ride, if that's the situation?) or should it spend an extra $187,500 over the present budget to get that same customer (and most people in Lehigh) to the Airport and back in one-third of the time? What is at stake is the basic functionality of Lee County's public transit system. If the County is going to spend $13 million in tax dollars, shouldn't it offer a service which at the minimum gets people to where they need to go in a reasonable amount of time? Shouldn't the people of Lee County who put up $17.5 million dollars a year in tax dollars and fares to fund LeeTran -- have a right to expect reasonably fast and efficient transit service?
The Pulse Plan can improve bus connections around the county by 300%, save hours for the passenger in traveling around the county, and provide a basis to increase ridership by a significant amount. Raising ridership by only 9.6% would not only keep the 515 Route in operation, but it would also allow the Lehigh Auxiliary route to function without any additional cost to the operating budget, providing superior service to everyone in Lee County as a result.
For more information about how the Lehigh Express Route works, click here. To see how an Express Route can be offered without increasing the operating budget, click here.