Is micro-transit coming to Portland? (UPDATED)

Moovel CEO Nat Parker told Forbes that micro-transit is one of the company's fast-growing new services.

"The newest part of our business that is growing quickly is micro-transit service," Parker said in the Q&A, which was published online a few days ago.

The service "us[es] Daimler vehicles to do non-fixed route transportation, first- and last-mile connections with off-peak hours, shuttle service where we’re pooling people on a similar route and doing dynamic trips."

Moovel's German division has been testing the microtransit ride-sharing service in Stuttgart since December using a fleet of Mercedes-Benz Viano vans. 

Just a few days ago, on June 1, the Stuttgart transit agency added the micro-bus program to their public transit portfolio, Moovel spokesperson Laura Modjeski said.


IMG 0148Nat Parker, CEO, Moovel NA

Will Daimler mini buses soon be sharing the Portland road? If so, the service would mark a new infrastructure push for Moovel's Portland-based U.S. headquarters, which so far has focused entirely on mobile apps.*

"In terms of North America, we are exploring additional markets and plan to pilot our on-demand service in the coming months," said  Modjeski. 

Modjeski declined to say if Portland was being considered for a pilot.

Asked if TriMet would be interested in partnering with a microtransit company, spokesperson Tia York emailed the following statement:

"TriMet is interested in continuing to learn about, and learn from, a range of microtransit concepts that are emerging and being piloted in communities in the U.S. and abroad. While many of these concepts are still being refined, we must also carefully evaluate how they might complement our existing transit services or offer new mobility connections to our riders that support our agency’s vision, mission and values."

Dylan Rivera, a spokesperson for the Portland Bureau of Transportation, said in an email he didn't think Moovel had been in contact with PBOT staff about offering the microtransit service in Portland. He said the system sounded similar to Uber Pool and Lyft line. If that's the case, Moovel would need a Private for Hire Transportation permit from PBOT.

"If they're offering shuttle rides in autonomous (or automated, really) vehicles, PBOT would be eager to learn more about that, especially if it can be coordinated with public transit service and get more people to and from light rail and bus stations," Rivera said.

When Moovel does enter the U.S. market, the company will go up against Ford, which acquired micro-bus startup Chariot a couple of years ago and has since launched in several cities around the country. Chariot currently operates in San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, New York and Columbus, Ohio.

Talk of micro-transit service comes as new physical transport options and infrastructure improvements are expected to roll out in Portland over the next few months, namely, scooters, and, farther down the road, more protected bike lanes and bus-only lanes. 

Biketown and TriMet are also expanding service.  

Read our February 2018 cover story, a deep dive profile of Moovel and Nat Parker, here.

*Daimler's urban mobility services include car sharing brands such as Car2Go. 


Linda Baker

Linda Baker is the editor of Oregon Business

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