Not long ago, companies like Uber and Lyft were considered a threat to public transportation, but now, many cities and transit agencies are starting to work with these ridesharing services to create more multimodal options for their customers.
The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) in St. Petersburg, Fla., realized the need for a partnership when they were looking to make service adjustments. Brad Miller, CEO of PSTA, said that the agency identified some bus routes with low ridership and decided to target those communities.
“Some of the [bus stops] don’t have sidewalks at all,” he said. “Some of them are low-income areas that have to walk very long distances out to the main line.”
In response, PSTA created “The Direct Connect” program, which covers half the price of all trips made through Uber or United Taxi (up to $3) that start or end at a transit stop. In doing so, Miller explained the agency expects to save at least $100,000 by paying for individual Uber rides, instead of running a fixed-route bus through those areas.
“We wanted to commit to our community and be a mobility agency, connecting people in any way possible,” Miller said. “We are still going to serve everybody in all parts of the county, but that just may not be with a 40-foot bus.”
The pilot program began at the end of February and is currently in place in two zones within the county. Miller said feedback has been positive so far and that the agency is already planning to bring in Lyft as well. He hopes to expand the program to more areas and, eventually, to PSTA’s paratransit program.
Christine Mitchell, GM for Uber Tampa Bay, was involved in the deal with PSTA and said that the company is eager for partnerships that help benefit the community.
“One of our cultural values at Uber is celebrating our cities and really partnering with the cities where we operate to help them solve their biggest challenges,” she said.
Similar programs have popped up throughout the nation, particularly in Florida. In Altamonte Springs, Fla., for instance, the city began to subsidize 20% of all trips beginning or ending within city limits and 25% of all trips beginning or ending at a SunRail commuter station. This came about after a proposal for a bus line connecting to the station was rejected by Orlando, Fla.’s LYNX transit system.
In Gainesville, Fla., the city targeted its large senior citizen community, offering free technology tutorials and lower fares.
Also in Gainesville, the student government for the University of Florida created a Safe Rides program that covered 50% of fares for late-night rides within the campus area.
In Cincinnati, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s Metro looked for a solution that spread awareness of the service, while complementing their other services. To do that, the agency has begun offering a free ride to first-time Uber users.
“We are seeing an uptick of riders who do not want to own a vehicle in Cincinnati,” said Brandy Jones, external affairs manager for Metro. “They want to ride the bus and our bikesharing services here, and now that we’ve added Uber to the mix, they’re just excited that they have a multimodal way of getting around without having to own a vehicle, if they don’t want to.”
There are a few factors that have contributed to this shift in attitude. Early partnerships with cities like Dallas and Atlanta have shown potential for such programs, and recently, the American Public Transportation Association released a study showing that Uber and Lyft users were more likely to use public transit frequently.
Although many of these programs seem to show promise, it is still too early to tell how effective these partnerships will be long-term. However, these agencies seem optimistic that Uber and other ridesharing services will continue to play a positive role based on the feedback they’ve received from passengers.
“I think it is the way of the future that we as transit professionals should be looking at,” PSTA’s Miller said. “I think it’s got some great applications, and we’re really happy with it so far.”