Potential Solutions to the First Mile/Last Mile Problem

     Public transportation usage suffers from a variety of issues that decrease the number of potential riders that ultimately choose an alternative form of transportation to get to their destination. One of these challenges, known as the First Mile/Last Mile (FM/LM) problem, is the requirement of the rider to get from the starting point of their journey to the place of transportation, which in turn requires another leg of their journey from the transportation station to their destination. Whether due to travel time, cost, or some other personal factor (such as an undesirable walk to the bus stop on a cold Ann Arbor winter morning with snow on the ground), the distance between a point in the journey and the transportation station has long presented a challenge to individuals trying to increase access to public transportation within a city.

     The first mile refers to the first leg of the trip from the starting point, often the home or the workplace, to the public transport station. The last mile is the final leg of the individual’s journey from the transportation station to their final destination. A graphical representation of a journey is presented below in Figure 1. The total time of the journey includes the first mile, the wait for the transportation, the travel time of the transporation, the egress from the transportation, and the last mile. Using the average human walking speed as a baseline, a mile for both of the FM and the LM can add about 34 minutes to the commute. Therefore, reducing the travel time for the first mile and last mile is a critical component for increasing desireability and ridership of public transportation. Beyond reducing total transportation time, the ideal solution to the FM/LM should also increase accessibility for potential riders while minimizing cost to the rider. Achieving these goals will hopefully increase the total ridership of public transporation within a community.

Figure 1. Graphical representation of First Mile/Last Mile

     Emerging technology has presented a variety of potential solutions to the FM/LM problem. However, each of these solutions present a number of costs that may make it difficult to realize the full societal benefit of those options.

Autonomous Vehicles (AVs)

     Autonomous vehicles in the form of shared fleets are considered to be a potential solution to the FM/LM problem. Ideally, consumers would be able to request an AV for pick-up at their starting point for drop-off at the transportation hub. With adoption of Vehicle-to-X communication, a planning system can optimize available vehicles with riders in a highly dynamic manner to minimize wait time. While there is research attempting to resolve this planning challenge, its practical implementation into a useable form will likely take additional technical development. Finally, the advancement from Level 4 to Level 5 AVs will require significant technical progress that could take substantial time to achieve. Therefore, it is unclear whether AVs will be a viable technical solution in the near future.

     In addition, the cost of this option is likely to be prohibitive. AV developers have expended major resources into the development of this technology; those companies will want to recoup those expenses in a reasonable time frame. Therefore, it is possible that shared AVs will not be accessible to middle- or lower-income individuals, at least in the short-run. A possible solution to this would be government subsidy, but that could face political challenges from constituents opposing potential tax increases that would result from the subsidy.

     Overall, AVs are unlikely to be a viable solution to the FM/LM problem in the short-term. The technical challenges and costs are likely too great to lead to large-scale adoption in the near future.


     Ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft have recently emerged as a potential solution to the FM/LM problem. However, ride-sharing will likely fail to manifest as a viable practical solution for a variety of reasons. First, availability of the service is highly dependent on the number of drivers operating within the area. Driver shortage leads to a high variability in wait times and can also increase the cost of the ride itself. In addition, the general cost of ride-sharing will likely increase as developers try to generate a profit as fare subsidization of the services concludes.

     Finally, it just seems impractical to use a ride-sharing service for the distance involved in FM/LM. The cost/benefit analysis of the wait and cost of the short ride will not be worth it for the vast majority of individuals. Therefore, while ride-sharing serves a valuable purpose in providing an alternative means of transportation for shorter trips, it is unlikely to serve as a viable solution to the FM/LM problem.


     The recent introduction of electric scooters into the urban landscape has been hailed as a potential FM/LM solution. A studyfrom Germany suggests that e-scooters are suitable for a majority of smaller daily trips or commutes within an urban environment. In addition, Sanders, R.L., et al. suggests that customers view e-scooters as a preferable alternative to walking in a college campus environment due to benefits such as speed and convenience.

     However, Sanders, R.L., et al. also state that a one-mile trip would cost about $3, on average. It is unclear whether this cost, applied broadly, would be viable for certain lower-middle and lower-income individuals. E-scooters may also suffer from potential price increases resulting from the reduction of fare subsidization, similar to that of ride-sharing services. In addition, scooter accessibility may present challenges – not everyone will be capable of riding a scooter. Additionally, while it is likely that scooters will be available in more dense, popular areas within urban environments, it may be more difficult to rent a scooter in a lower dense, less popular area within the same environment. Therefore, while e-scooters present a possible solution to FM/LM, it is unclear whether this technology will serve as a complete solution or as a supplement to a larger-scale solution.


     Bicycles are likely the most accessible and affordable option of the potential solutions discussed in this blog. They also offer the option to dramatically reduce the travel time from the travel point to the transportation hub. Using the added mile from the walking example above, an individual using a bicycle will only add eight minutes to the commute when traveling at the average cycling speed.

     However, a significant problem must be addressed in terms of bicycle storage either at the transit hub or on the transportation itself. Some forms of public transport do not allow travelers to bring bikes onboard, and stops along the transport route often do not have racks or other storge for the bicycle. A solution to this problem would be to place bicycle racks or storage at every stop to allow riders to safely store their bike at the place of ingress to the transportation. While this solution is not terribly novel, a quick Google search for “commercial bike rack cost” suggests this approach is quite affordable and would result in a minimal burden to the taxpayer. To further supplement the one-way solution suggested, buses should be retrofitted with bike racks, and local rules and regulations could be changed to allow bicycles on subways or trains.

     There are still some drawbacks associated with the proposed solution. Not everyone is physically able to ride a bike, and cycling in inclement weather or on difficult road conditions is unpleasant and potentially dangerous. Nevertheless, given the low cost of marginal improvement compared to the potential benefit, bicycles are a potentially viable solution to FM/LM if considered along with thoughtful policy changes to assist the commuter.


     The goal of a solution to the FM/LM problem should be to decrease commute time relative to alternatives while minimizing cost to the individual. E-scooters present a potential solution, but scooter accessibility and ride cost present possible roadblocks to large-scale implementation. Perhaps bicycles are the best option for the majority of commuters given their affordability and general accessibility for most people. Implementing bicycle racks at transportation stops could significantly reduce commute time for either the FM or the LM.

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