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Transit agencies and transportation network companies (TNCs) generally play in different sandboxes, managing their operations without the complications of working together. But, in a growing number of cities, these service providers have found the allure of collaborating too powerful to resist. More than two dozen municipal governments and transit agencies have formed partnerships with TNCs to enhance mobility options.

Nearly all of the 29 past and present collaborations we explore in our new study, “Partners in Transit: A Review of Partnerships between Transportation Network Companies and Public Agencies,” are intended to allow transit operators and TNCs (predominately Lyft and Uber) to concentrate on what they do best. By using TNCs to fill gaps, offer first- and last-mile solutions, and provide certain demand-responsive services, transit providers can focus resources on modernizing top-performing routes, serving commuters, and other core strengths.

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Bus ridership has plunged nationwide since ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft appeared, but about 30 cities have found ways to partner with the new companies to reach their transit goals in cheaper and easier ways.

It may be too early to say whether these partnerships can stop riders from fleeing public transit, but transportation experts say the partnerships offer a glimpse into transit's very-different future.

"Given the magnitude of the declines across the industry, millions and millions of trips per year, I don't think we're at a point yet where the partnerships—still limited to thirty or so examples that you all have found around the country—are yet reversing that," said Christopher Kopp of the transportation planning firm HTNB. "However, I think the potential here is that they're a way forward.”

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In more than two dozen cities across the country, transit agencies have partnered with private-sector transportation providers, such as Lyft, Uber and Via, as well as local taxi companies and other mobility providers. These relationships have evolved as agencies seek to grow ridership, burnish their brand and remain relevant amid the pervasive growth of non-traditional, app-based transportation services.

The transit agencies run the spectrum from large to small, and the deals they have struck with transportation network companies like Uber or Lyft have taken a number of creative shapes. Some of those programs remain and are under further development, while others have been closed out for various reasons.

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