BFT CONNECT will allow riders within active service zones to request a ride directly through the Via mobile app. Via

Richland, Wash.’s Ben Franklin Transit (BFT) is launching a new on-demand transit service in West Pasco, starting with support for essential travel needs during the COVID-19 crisis. The service — called BFT CONNECT — will be powered by Via, the company that provides digital infrastructure to power public mobility in cities across the world, under a contract approved by the BFT board and signed earlier this year.

The service was originally scheduled to launch in early April as a first-and-last mile service that would extend access to affordable, efficient, and convenient public transit, and has been rapidly transformed to support residents and essential workers during the current pandemic.

BFT CONNECT will allow riders within active service zones to request a ride directly through the Via mobile app. Via’s powerful technology directs passengers to a nearby corner for pickup, allowing for quick and efficient trips to or from designated Transit Connections within the same zone.

Under normal operations, Transit Connections will include major bus stops and transit centers. However, as an added service during ongoing emergency response in the community, select essential service locations including pharmacies, grocery stores, and health clinics will be included as Transit Connections with front door drop-off and pickup.

In the Via app, customers can see, in real time, their available trip options, how far away their driver is, and estimated time of arrival at their destination. Customers without smartphones will be able to call in to request rides and receive text updates as appropriate. During the state of emergency, no fares will be collected for this service in accordance with BFT’s ongoing safety measures. Once normal fare collection resumes, fares will be collected for BFT CONNECT rides through the Via app, cash, or BFT tickets and passes.

Under current emergency operating conditions, only one passenger will be allowed in each vehicle per trip, though the service is intended to and will eventually be a shared ride service, with Via’s advanced algorithms allowing multiple riders to seamlessly share a vehicle. At launch, a second passenger will be allowed only as a companion traveling to and from the same destinations, and riders must sit in the back row of the vehicle to maintain proper social distancing from the driver.

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