SamTrans will soon offer “microtransit” services in the areas of East Palo Alto and Half Moon Bay, allowing people there to schedule on-demand transit trips by van rather than having to catch a bus on a fixed route and schedule.

The transit agency’s Board of Directors unanimously approved a $9.7 million contract with the Illinois-based company Transdev Services Inc. to develop the microtransit services over a term of more than three years with the option to extend it for an additional two years.

SamTrans defines microtransit as a transit service similar to ride-hailing apps that offers riders more flexibility, and was identified in SamTrans’ strategic plan several years ago as a service model that could be used in areas that pose challenges for fixed-route service due to issues like narrow streets, unique land uses, or gaps in a local pedestrian network.

A microtransit pilot program, SamTrans OnDemand, started in May 2019 in the Linda Mar area of Pacifica and operated for a year. After years of analysis and public outreach as part of the agency’s Reimagine SamTrans plans to redesign its bus system, staff recommended the creation of two new microtransit zones in and around Half Moon Bay and East Palo Alto.

TransDev was selected among four proposals last year to run the new microtransit program and plans to launch it by this June, according to SamTrans staff.

The service will run from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. in the East Palo Alto area and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. In the Half Moon Bay area and will use Ford transit vans.

Trips must start and end in the zones defined by the agency, and pickup and arrival times will be provided in real time. Riders can use a smartphone app or call SamTrans’ Customer Service Center to schedule a pickup.

Marina Fraser, vice chair of the SamTrans board and a former Half Moon Bay mayor and city councilmember, expressed enthusiasm for the program at a meeting this past Wednesday.

“This will be extremely important for all of our constituents” such as seniors and disabled people, Fraser said. “This is going to be a game-changer for the coast.”