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Members of Voices for Public Transit know public transportation benefits everyone. We’re keeping it moving.

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Innovations in Public Transit: Florida Transit Systems Add Rideshare Service

Public transportation is changing for the better. Innovative technologies and emerging partnerships between public transit agencies and private companies are creating new, improved services aimed at increasing ridership and efficiencies.

Thanks to these bold efforts, public transit is becoming more accessible to more people in communities of all sizes — from new, on-demand bus services that are bringing bus service to suburban neighborhoods to collaboration with ridesharing companies to extend transit agency services into more communities. Any way you slice it, it’s an exciting time for public transit.

One Florida System’s Challenge: Budgets Limit Hours and Geographic Reach

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) provides bus and paratransit services to the cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater, as well as several towns, suburbs, and unincorporated areas. While PSTA provides more the 45,000 rides daily — nearly 15 million annually — budget constraints have limited geographic coverage in some areas, as well as hours of operation. As a result, many residents lack access to public transportation when and where they need it.

This is a particular challenge for those who cannot drive or do not have access to a private vehicle. In addition, workers with late night and graveyard shifts, such as hotel and restaurant employees, cannot use public transportation for at least one leg of their commute.

Extending Service by Partnering with Uber

PSTA, like most public transit systems in the U.S., faces the “first mile/last mile” challenge: that is, figuring out how to serve people who still need to cover a mile or more to reach their destinations from the nearest bus stop.

In February 2016, PSTA launched an innovative pilot program — called “Direct Connect” — to help address this challenge. The system partnered with rideshare company Uber, as well as a local taxi company, to provide rides to and from bus stops within two underserved zones. PSTA covers half of the fare, up to $3. The idea is that once a rider can reach a bus stop, the entire region becomes accessible. PSTA is the first transit system in America to subsidize Uber fares for riders.

In June, PSTA announced that it will expand its partnership with Uber to provide 24/7 public transit for lower-income residents, beginning August 1. The new “Transportation Disadvantaged” program will offer qualified area residents 23 free Uber rides per month between the hours of 9PM and 6AM, when most PSTA buses are not available. One free daytime ride per month is available as well.

Riders can use an Uber app to request a ride, but they can also use a special telephone dispatch service if they lack a smartphone — or do not have a credit card to set up an Uber account.

Other transit systems are now considering or testing similar “shared mobility” transit solutions that combine public and private transportation. New transportation services that leverage mobile, GPS, and other technologies can essentially extend the reach and hours of public transportation without the need to add fixed routes.

Do you think your local public transit system could benefit from a “shared mobility” partnership? Share your thoughts with our community.