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How Trenton, NJ Is Improving Citizen's Lives With Microtransit: Learn From GOTrenton! Application

By Stephen Brandofino

Maintaining infrastructure development and management, whether it is public service, businesses, or roadways, is an essential part of a municipal leadership. One of the most heavily demanded and widely-used services for constituents in all cities is transportation. Transportation infrastructure refers to roads, bridges, and other transit systems that must all work seamlessly to ensure a positive experience for your citizens. 

Transportation is the lifeblood of any community. It connects people to jobs, education, healthcare and many essential services. Most of all, it gives people access to opportunities to further their lives and education. 

Ensuring that your citizens have reliable means of transportation is not limited to building roads and railways; it is also about addressing the differing needs of your residents.

Trenton, NJ, like many cities, faced this dilemma head on. Residents found themselves frustrated by the lack of accessible options for transportation. Whether it be unreliable bus schedules, or pricey fares, the situation was dire. 

The cost of public transportation, ridesharing, or simply owning a vehicle can quickly eat up the limited resources of many citizens. This financial burden places a disproportionate strain on low-income households, creating a serious disparity in mobility and accessibility. 

After an outcry from constituents, things needed to change. The changes needed were far more than material. There was a need to foster inclusivity, equity, and social justice. The need for comprehensive, accessible, and affordable transportation systems became more than just a request, it became a necessity for countless Trenton residents who couldn’t afford daily public transit access. 

Trenton's story serves as a reminder of not only the impact of transportation on a community, but also the amazing possibilities of a positive relationship between local government officials and constituents, built on trust and communication. 

The Problem Trenton, NJ Was Faced With

Trenton, New Jersey, the state's capital, has a population of a little over 90k. This number ranks Trenton as the tenth most populated city in New Jersey. Currently Trenton has the lowest median income in Mercer County at a little over $37,000. 

Furthermore, the poverty rate is nearly double that of the rest of the state of New Jersey. Due to this large rate of poverty, citizens craved an affordable way to transport through the city and surrounding areas. 

One of the most prominent problems in Trenton is the lack of proper transportation options for its residents. This issue, coupled with the previously mentioned poverty rate of the city, created a real problem for Trenton’s local government.

The existing transportation infrastructure was unreliable, with limited routes and frequent delays, leaving many residents effectively stranded. The lack of reliable transportation heightened social and economic disparities within the community, hindering mobility and further perpetuating a cycle of poverty and socioeconomic inequality. 

Learn everything about Making Government Services Better for Citizens here. 

 Finding The Solution: Microtransit Can Solve This Problem

The goal of a local government official is to give their constituents the necessary tools to live safe, comfortable, and happy lives. Transportation, especially in an urban landscape like Trenton, can present a very complex issue to local government officials. When looking for solutions to this issue, Trenton discovered a new way to travel called Microtransit. 

Microtransit is a flexible and on demand transportation that operates by using smaller vehicles such as vans or shuttles to provide better travel solutions. Differing from fixed route public transit systems, microtransit is adaptable to passenger demand. This offering allows for dynamically routed trips based on passenger requests made through either a mobile app or call center

Microtransit aims to enhance the accessibility of communities by providing first and last mile connections to transportation hubs. By offering shared rides and better routes based upon needs, microtransit can help in lowering carbon emissions, reducing congestion, and providing equity throughout communities. 

Additionally, microtransit can be a cost effective alternative to traditional public transit systems. This is imperative for a city like Trenton, with so many of its citizens living at or below the poverty line. 

What Does Microtransit Do? 

The positive impacts that microtransit offers are greater than the previously stated. When instilling a program like this, it is important for local government officials to weigh the pros and the cons of implementation. Here is a list of some of the long term benefits of Microtransit systems:

  • Drives Economic Development

Enhanced transportation accessibility that is provided by microtransit can help in stimulating economic growth. By connecting lower income residents to employment centers and business districts, economic growth opportunities can be seen by lower income communities. Microtransit can also attract businesses and investment to urban areas, which will have many positive implications on long term economic development. 

Read our guide on How Municipalities Can Drive Local Economic Development here. 

  • Drives Sustainable Urban Development

Microtransit supports sustainable urban development by reducing dependence on privately owned vehicles. This can help in alleviating traffic congestion and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The positive impacts of this change will be seen for years to come. Over time, this change can contribute to a more livable, environmentally friendly city. 

Learn about How To Run an Ethical and Equitable Community here. 

  • Reduces Infrastructure Costs

Microtransit systems can help to reduce the need for expensive infrastructure investments in traditional public transportation, such as building new railway lines or expanding on city bus networks. 

By offering more efficient and cost effective transportation solutions, microtransit allows for cities to optimize their transportation investments as well as their budgets and resources as a whole. 

Learn all about Financial Budgeting In Your Local Government here!

How GOTrenton! Works

Local government officials in Trenton needed a solution to the transportation issue in their area. Thanks to a $5 million state grant, Trenton implemented GoTrenton!

GoTrenton!, announced by Governor Phil Murphy in 2021, is the state's flagship electric powered shuttle system. The initiative's goal is to provide equitable and reliable transportation to its population. The fleet of electric vehicles has been deployed to allow citizens of Trenton the opportunity to access more transportation modes to get to work, school, or medical appointments. 

The way GoTrenton! works is simple: book a shuttle trip for $2 (your first trip is free!) and you are on your way to your destination. 

The ride sharing service is available from Monday to Thursday from 7am to 7pm, with adjusted hours on Friday and Saturday (7am-10pm and 12pm-10pm respectively). By downloading the Circuit app, you will have access to booking a trip as well as a map of the areas that will be serviced by Go Trenton!. 

Typically, hotspots are usually a block or so from where you are located and will drop you off a block from popular points of interest such as Trenton Transit Center, Trenton Free Public Library, New Jersey State Museum, grocery stores, and local health centers. 

Here's What Trenton Achieved 

What started as a simple solution in Trenton has grown to something that even local government officials may have not anticipated. From funding, to scaling the operation, Go Trenton has provided a new level of equity and hope into not only Trenton, but many other communities in New Jersey!

  • DEP Funding 

Arguably the most difficult step of turning a hopeful plan into reality is getting over the hurdle of budget constraints. Many what would be helpful services to communities, usually never leave the idea stage due to tightened spending. This could have been the reality for Go Trenton, if not for the state Department of Environmental Protection. 

Thanks to a grant of $883,000 from the DEP, the foundational funds for the project were set. This has set in motion the possibility of further funding for these types of projects, largely due to the positive implications of having an all electric vehicle fleet.

  • Augmentation of Public Transit

The best thing to have in life is options, and thanks to GoTrenton!’s implementation, citizens have a myriad of options. To be clear, GoTrenton! is not meant to eliminate other public transportation options such as buses and trains, but rather widen the transportation offerings, especially for the underserved community within the city. 

The addition of GoTrenton! will give local officials the opportunity to better disperse public transportation routes, since they have the ride sharing service to fall back on. 

Charting Your Course: How To Achieve Similar Outcomes As Trenton 

While Trenton’s experience may seem like a one off scenario, cities around the state and country have experienced positive impacts when implementing new modes of transportation. 

There are certain steps you can take as a local government official to achieve similar outcomes as the state's capital. Some of these steps include:

1. Analyze Transportation Options

Each locality is different, and it is important to decide whether or not you will need to implement a new form of transportation. Consider the usefulness of buses, trains, subways, or personal vehicles in your locality and how these would work for the specific demographics and residents in your community. 

Are your residents happy? Can they afford the public transportation in your city? These are questions you need to ask citizens directly, as they can give you feedback that provides insight to their requests. 

2. Gauge Public Interest In Similar Programs

As always, it is important to engage with your constituents. Get out and get their opinions on the need for a new form of transportation in your community. Find out if they need this in the first place! This can be achieved through public outreach events, polling, or social media outreach. 

Check out GovPilot’s Constituent Engagement Software here.  

3. Acquire Funding 

This key step, while sounding easy, can sometimes become difficult. In order to put robust transportation systems in place, there needs to be adequate funding. Look to present positive impacts on things like the local economy or the environment to shareholders when looking for funding. If lasting positive impacts can be shown through the project, it will become easier for you to get the necessary funding. 

Take Inspiration From Trenton Now!

Local government officials should feel inspired to improve transportation in their municipality like Trenton has, and to put constituents first depending on their individual residents' needs. Government officials and government employees should book a consultation with GovPilot professionals to learn how GovPilot can streamline your municipal operations and improve constituent engagement. 

Microtransit FAQs 

Why is microtransit good for large cities?

Microtransit is more affordable and more individualized for people in big cities that have countless travelers at any given time. Having the option to order a carpool through an app, rather than rely on a bus, train, or expensive Ubers is more accessible and equitable. More options need to be available in cities with more residents, thats where microtransit comes in. 

How does microtransit improve upward mobility? 

Microtransit improves upward mobility by providing a cost-effective way for residents to navigate to their jobs, schools, internships, and more valuable opportunities for improving socioeconomic status and fulfillment. 

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Tags: Constituent Engagement, Government Efficiency, Constituent Experience, Civic Engagement