What Is a Last-Mile Connection, and Why Does It Matter?

The concept of "first mile" and "last mile" connections is an oft-overlooked component in the public transit systems that keep our communities humming. Yet these connections play a foundational role in optimizing public transportation and ensuring transit is accessible, convenient, and seamless for everyone.

As its name suggests, the last-mile connection refers to the final segment of a person's journey between the main transit system (i.e., the bus system or train network) and the rider's final destination. Today, data- and tech-driven solutions — including innovations such as investments in micromobility — are giving businesses and municipalities effective ways to help their citizens and employees overcome the last-mile connection hurdles that often deter people from taking advantage of public transit.

Uncovering Last-Mile Challenges: Key Hurdles For Transit Riders

Traditional public transportation utilizes fixed routes that run through a community's highest-density corridors with preset, high-traffic locations chosen for each transit stop. Yet many people don't live along the direct transit route. That poses a problem for commuters, seniors or other individuals who have mobility and accessibility concerns, and businesses' employees.

This is often especially true in more rural or suburban municipalities, where survey data suggests a correlation between the amount of effort someone needs to put into their first- and last-mile connections, and a related decrease in public transit uptake.

Criteria For Determining Problems in Last-Mile Connections

Business and civic leaders who want to identify their community's last-mile challenges need to look at three primary criteria:

  • The distance a transit rider needs to travel between the main transit system and their destination
  • The level of effort required to connect their transit trip with other transportation options
  • The quality of the infrastructure between the transit system/transit facility and the rider's destination

Common Issues That Lead to Problematic Last-Mile Connections

Every community is different, but many public transportation systems struggle with four particular hurdles related to last-mile connections:

  • Lack of diverse transportation modes for the last mile, as everyone has different needs or preferences
  • Lack of integration between different modes of transportation — it's often confusing, inconvenient, or time-intensive for passengers to transition from one mode of travel to another
  • Poor or lacking infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists, which makes it challenging for riders to walk or bike from transit stops to their final destinations safely and comfortably
  • The cost of last-mile transportation options, such as ride-sharing services or micro-mobility solutions, which may be a barrier for some riders

Addressing these challenges requires a multi-faceted approach involving collaboration between transportation authorities, urban planners, business leaders, and technology providers. When these stakeholders work together on implementing policies that encourage multi-modal integration while leveraging emerging technologies, they can smooth over the last-mile connection, create a more efficient and accessible public transit system, and even expand the catchment of the traditional transit system.

Smoothing Over the Last Mile

Increasing transit route coverage with more fixed transit stops is rarely, if ever, the fastest or the most cost-savvy solution for improving transit ridership.

That doesn't mean last-mile connection problems can't be overcome. Many leaders have improved public transit through a variety of methods. Successful approaches have integrated various transportation services, such as buses, trains, ride-sharing, bike-sharing, and walking, into a cohesive and well-coordinated multi-modal network that's convenient and attractive to public transit riders.

Improve Accessibility

Many public transit systems are difficult to access for seniors and those with mobility concerns. Metro — the transportation planner and coordinator for Los Angeles, the country's most populous county — found that many of its busiest transit stops were not easily accessible for riders with health conditions or impairments. Currently, the county is investing in numerous improvements to better accommodate its ridership's diverse needs, such as installing more rolling ramps at transit stops.

Accessibility also means making that last-mile connection as pedestrian-friendly as possible. The Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority (Nashville MTA) found that public transit riders are typically willing to walk up to 1/2 mile to and from a transit stop, but well-maintained sidewalks and enhanced pedestrian crossings were critical for encouraging walking.

Integrate With Ride Sharing

Ride-sharing can play a significant role in improving last-mile connections in public transit. It offers flexibility and convenient, customized routes based on a rider's specific needs — quickly filling gaps in transit coverage, and serving areas where it is economically unfeasible to operate fixed transit routes.

Many public transit agencies are even integrating ride-sharing options into their official public transportation apps, providing passengers with a seamless experience for planning and paying for their entire journey. For example, Seattle and the surrounding King County introduced on-demand ride-sharing that integrates directly the state's bus and rail systems.

Implement Feeder Services and Microtransit

Feeder bus services and shuttles can connect major transit stops or stations to specific destinations or areas with lower population density. These buses efficiently bridge the gap between the main transit system and passengers' final destinations.

Last year, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) did exactly that through a partnership with SHARE Mobility. With the Workforce Connector Program, buses provide last-mile connections directly to major employment sites in the city of Solon.

Based out of one of the city's major transit hubs, transit riders can connect to underserviced areas of the city with advanced scheduling that improves transit efficiency and reduces transit time for commuters. "We know the value of job accessibility and recognize its importance as it relates to economic development and overall community strength," explained the manager of the city's transit authority.

Add Micro-Mobility Options

Urban planners, community leaders, and businesses can promote the use of micro-mobility solutions, such as electric scooters or e-bicycles, by providing dedicated lanes, parking facilities, charging options, and infrastructure. Recently, more and more communities have partnered with private companies to deploy shared micro-mobility fleets while integrating micro-mobility into their transit system (e.g., adding bike storage to transit stops and bike racks on buses). This is a last-mile solution that is often very attractive to younger transit riders.

Pick Up Where Other Solutions Leave Off with SHARE Mobility

There's a common saying that "the last mile is the longest mile." Last-mile connections continue to challenge many communities, and the negative effects of poorly planned transit on businesses, employees, and residents affect everything from business development to the environment.

Expanding traditional transit systems isn't always the best or the most cost-efficient solution.

That's where SHARE Mobility comes in. We're an all-in-one transportation program management platform with software and solutions designed to change the way Americans commute — and we're especially excited about improving route performance, creating a seamless integration between public transit and options like ride sharing, and solving the pervasive problem of the last-mile connection.

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