Last mile connections
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The "last-mile" or "first and last-mile" connection describes the beginning or end of a personal trip made primarily by public transportation. In many cases, people will walk to transit if it is within 1/4 mile (CITE WALKER). However, on either end of a public transit trip, the origin or destination may be difficult or impossible to access by a short walk. This gap from public transit to destination is termed a last mile connection.
A common example relates to intercity rail: a traveler may be able to reach their local train station, but would have no way to reach their final destination after getting off the train in another city. The traveler may have been able to drive to the train station at the start of their trip and park their car, or perhaps they took a local bus or walked. The train carries them a long distance to another city where the train station is too far from the final destination to walk. Without some form of connection in the destination city, no traveler would take the train in this scenario, because they become effectively stranded at the end. This example can be applied to any mode of transit to varying degrees.
Last Mile Connections
In reality, the last mile connection is more complex than the example above. Walking is often an acceptable last mile connection, but typically up to about 1/4 mile. Transit agencies may be concerned about major destinations that are more than 1/4 mile away from the nearest transit stop. Sometimes even walking is not an option, perhaps because of lacking infrastructure. In other cases, a long-distance line like a train may serve destinations with infrequent or nonexistent transit service.
There are many strategies for providing last mile connections:
Pedestrians and Cyclists
ADA-compliant pedestrian infrastructure is a foundation of local travel anywhere, and is especially important in planning transit stations. Bicycling is another key component, which extends the range of mobility and improves access, if it is safe to bike. Biking requires parking, like cars and the design of bike racks (or lockers) should be considered carefully. Bike share is a next-step to providing good bike infrastructure. Especially in larger cities, bike share can be critical for one or both ends of a trip for all transit users. Advanced bike share programs may be more challenging to implement in smaller, isolated cities. Instead, it may be more practical to make arrangements with local bike shops to have information or bike rentals near transit.
Information is not a physical connection, but is critical for transit users to navigate a system. Wayfinding can be a city-wide visual style for signs directing to common destinations, or as small as the bus schedule pamphlet. Agencies should be cautious about presentation of information, focusing on clarity and simplicity. Information should be presented as if the reader is completely unfamiliar with the area to accommodate visitors and newcomers.
Local transit connections to regional transit can include shuttle buses or regular stops by fixed-route service. For example, Emeryville, CA, provides a free three-route bus shuttle system for connections from the nearest BART station. Transit service connecting with regional service can be challenging. If the local service is infrequent, passengers arriving may be turned off by long waits for connections. Timing local service to connect, or even wait for regional service is an option, but may decrease reliability elsewhere on the route.
Car sharing, such as ZipCar, Car2Go, and many others, can provide the highest level of connection and flexibility.
Zoning and Density
Although outside the control of most transit agencies, zoning and density do affect how transit agencies deliver service. In some areas, a light rail or major bus line may not serve the full potential customer base because of low density and sprawl. Planning for park & rides at major stations can encourage some users to make the short drive and use transit for the majority of the trip. However, working with communities to encourage density around transit is important.
- NPR. "How a Free Bus Shuttle Helped a Small Town Take Off" November 13, 2013. http://www.npr.org/2013/11/13/243955769/how-a-free-bus-shuttle-helped-make-a-small-town-take-off
- Emeryville TMA. Emery Go Round website. Accessed 4 February 2014. http://www.emerygoround.com/schedule-maps
- NPR. "Rail Planners Aim To Re-Train L.A.'s Car Culture" April 30, 2013 http://www.npr.org/2013/04/30/179992119/re-training-los-angeles-car-culture