KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Kalamazoo area public transit operator Metro has some unfinished business rolling into the new year, including a comprehensive operational analysis contracted to a consultant looking at how it can better serve passengers.

“(Consultant analysts) look at data in the system,” Metro executive director Sean McBride said. “We obviously have a lot of data tracking all the buses and ridership and so forth. But a key component is getting feedback from the community, our riders, our drivers.”

“Public transit is very personalized for individuals, just our lives. We’ve seen this in the pandemic,” McBride continued. “Everyone has their personal needs and they want the service that best meets their needs.”

That’s why Metro has already invested at least $500,000 to introduce a new service: Its micro transit will operate as an on-demand ride-sharing service like Uber and Lyft.

“You use a phone app or even call ahead and schedule as much as within a half an hour, 45 minutes to get the trip,” McBride said. “It may cost a little bit more.”

Further details on the fleet, exact pricing and number of jobs this will create have yet to be determined. But the big question is whether it could impact riders who routinely use the bus to get where they need to go.

“You’ve got a lot of people who depend on these buses,” rider Kevin Mixon said.

“It’s real crowded,” rider Mary Jo Alyanak added. “I don’t see how they could have a shuttle for that, how they make any smaller buses.”

McBride reassured riders that bus routes with high ride volumes like those along Westnedge, Sprinkle and Portage roads will not be changed but the new micro transit service could be a better fit for those areas that are not as busy.

“More residential, maybe some other areas,” McBride explained. “Hospitals get a lot of traffic but there are important doctor’s offices and dentist’s offices. They don’t have as high of a … patient volume, so maybe those will be better served with a micro transit than a regular fixed route service.”

The director of the Portage Senior Center said many residents — especially those with mobility problems — already request rides through Metro’s van sharing service Metro Share to get to medical appointments.

McBride added if micro turns out to be successful, Metro will reassess how it balances operations among its other three services.

Plans and other suggestions are not final, since the comprehensive operational analysis won’t be finished until the end of March. A pilot for the micro transit service is expected to be launched near fall of 2024.