Multimodal trip planner to make travel easier in Greater Minnesota, rural areas

Passengers disembarking a Brown County transit bus
Photo: Heartland Express

When a person wants to take a trip across the country, they can choose from a variety of travel planning apps to help make that happen. But what if the trip they want to take is from Mankato to New Ulm, or within their own community, using non-personal transportation?

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has launched a pilot project to bring trip planning and payment technology for daily trips to areas less dense than urban settings.

Residents and visitors in southern and western Minnesota now have the ability to plan for and, in some cases, pay for public transit and intercity bus trips using the Transit app. Travel and route information for these agencies went live within Transit on March 1.

Transit, a free app available for download in Google Play or the Apple App Store, is used in more than 300 cities around the world. It allows users to see route and travel options for public transit and connecting services. Select agencies also have in-app ticketing, allowing riders to pay for fares electronically and then show their device to transit drivers to ride.

Transit app icon

“This pilot with the Transit app focuses on rural areas because this technology has not yet been made available outside of Minnesota’s big cities,” says Elliott McFadden, MnDOT’s Greater Minnesota Shared Mobility Program coordinator. “The project will be the first to bring the latest technology to make it easier to plan and take trips in many communities in Greater Minnesota.”

The pilot will run through April 2024 and is funded by two innovation grants from the Federal Transit Administration at a cost of $1.9 million.

U of M researchers led by Alireza Khani will evaluate the project to help determine whether this technology should be scaled to the rest of the state. Focusing on southern Minnesota, the research team will work closely with MnDOT’s project management team and the platform development team to study these questions:

  • How do residents of the region benefit from having access to a variety of mobility options through an integrated platform?
  • To what extent does the platform help increase transit ridership and reduce personal vehicle use?
  • How can the features of the platform—such as route planning or pricing—be optimized for greater system efficiency and benefits for all residents?

“Our goal is to provide the data and analysis policymakers need to make the most effective transit investments,” says Khani, an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering.

(Adapted from a MnDOT press release, March 1, 2023.)


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Michael McCarthy