How Cities Can Solve the First and Last Mile Problem


In your job as a planner, we know you're often fielding basic questions about public transit. We hope this Remix Primer blog series offers another resource as you educate your constituents.

The first and last mile problem remains a prominent obstacle in developing more efficient and equitable public transportation. Discover how cities are tackling the FMLM issue and what the future holds for public transit.

Developing more efficient public transit systems is becoming a primary concern among cities in the U.S. and abroad. To meet growing demand, experts continue to explore solutions to increasingly complex public transportation challenges. One such challenge is to fully accommodate the mobility needs of communities by providing transportation coverage for the first and last mile of a commute. Read on to learn more about the first and last mile problem, along with steps various cities are taking to expand the scope of their public transportation.

‌What is the First Mile/Last Mile Problem?

One of the most pressing challenges facing public transportation today is the “First and Last Mile Problem”, which is the distance a commuter needs to travel from a transit stop to their destination, or vice versa. According to recent Census Bureau findings, just over 46% of all public transportation commuters prefer to take buses instead of other forms of travel. However, transit stops often only provide transportation to preset, high traffic locations, leaving many commuters to walk the first leg or last leg of their trip.

Why is the First Mile/Last Mile Problem So Complex?

Public transportation in the United States is used by millions of Americans every day, making it a multi-billion dollar industry. Despite that, nearly half of Americans don’t have adequate access to transit services. Many factors may contribute to this lapse in coverage, but the FMLM problem is certainly one of them. Improving access to public transportation presents a challenge to planners seeking to augment existing infrastructure. Using new technologies along with initiatives like ridesharing and microtransit will be critical to confronting this problem.

Solutions Cities Can Use to Solve First and Last Mile Issues

For some cities, developing more effective public transportation systems has presented a unique opportunity to explore new ideas and technologies. There are also financial reasons to improve accessibility to public transit. According to a report released by the American Public Transportation Administration, each dollar invested in public transportation provides $5 in local economic revenue.

Here are some of the creative ways cities are beginning to address first and last mile commute problems.

Lack of Transportation Between Transit Connections

‌Seattle has worked to resolve the first and last mile issue by offering on-demand ridesharing services. Commuters can download an app to request transportation from various service locations to a nearby station stop or transit hub. For those with mobility needs, wheelchair-accessible vehicles are available upon request. Seattle is also committed to ongoing investment in bike-share programs throughout the city.‌

Inadequate Accessibility to Transportation Connections

In Los Angeles, several projects are underway to increase the number of available connections between transit stops. The city is also focusing on relieving congestion along I-405 to improve the efficiency of existing transit ridership. To better accommodate pedestrian traffic throughout the city, walking and rolling access at busy transit stations is being expanded. While improvements to rail and bus transit are a priority, alternative modes of travel such as bike and car share services are becoming increasingly available.

A Need for Sustainable Modes of Personal Travel Between Destinations    

The city of Denton, Texas, introduced a bike-share program to support the transportation needs of students at the University of Northern Texas campus and downtown area. A smartphone app allows users to unlock a bicycle from several locations around the city. Bike-share programs like these can help cities build a more eco-friendly future while addressing the transportation needs of their population.

Commute in Comfort With Shared Mobility

‌Conventional modes of transportation are limited in their scalability and coverage. By making shared mobility options available, communities can provide individuals with more convenient, cost effective, and comfortable modes of travel. Shared mobility allows commuters to get to where they need to go faster than ever before, reducing travel time and ultimately reducing traffic congestion. As bike rental programs, e-scooters, and on-demand rideshare services continue to expand across the country, public transportation is increasingly meeting the needs of an evolving society.‌

The Future of Transit

The use of public transit has increased by 28% in the past 25 years. As demand rises for more sophisticated public transportation, cities across the country will need to use technology and enhance transit infrastructure to keep up. It is imperative to improve mobility for the most vulnerable members of the community. Many cities are upgrading bike lane infrastructure and expanding access to on-demand microtransit services. Providing access to alternative public transit options like eScooters or ride sharing is another strategy cities are implementing to address the first and last mile dilemma.

As we move forward as a society, microtransit and shared mobility will likely be crucial in the creation of more responsive and flexible public transportation. Remix by Via's comprehensive shared mobility software makes it easy to manage these important tools. Transportation workers are able to gain deeper insights into shared mobility in an area by compiling intricate streams of data into an intuitive, visual format. Transit agencies can evaluate heat maps that show the most heavily traveled areas of the city in order to create more efficient transit routes or discover areas that lack coverage.

Technology like this will be essential in developing strategies to confront the challenges of public transportation. On-demand ride sharing and microtransit will continue to change the way people think of travel in the coming years as communities throughout the world endeavor to create a more interconnected, equitable future.