Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), October 31, 2016

After the success of the first partnership of its kind between Uber and a public transit system, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) is expanding that partnership from the initial small pilot area to span across Pinellas County.

Wednesday, the PSTA Board of Directors unanimously approved new contracts with Uber and United Taxi, and for the first time with the ridesharing service Lyft.

Branded as Direct Connect, the second pilot program is designed to give low-cost Uber, Lyft, or taxi rides to designated bus stops to allow more citizens access to PSTA’s primary bus lines.

“It’s really impressive that PSTA has been in the forefront of the transit industry in launching the first true first-mile/last-mile program and we’re proud to partner with PSTA,” said Danielle Sipf, senior operations manager with Uber Inc.

“The national recognition we received as being one of the most innovative transit systems with our Uber partnership has been great,” said PSTA CEO Brad Miller. “Our real focus continues to be how we can use these new technologies to benefit our thousands of transit customers. By providing $1 rides to and from our bus lines, we hope to attract an even wider customer base to use public transportation as their preferred mode. This is the future of transportation and we’re happy to be the leaders as it benefits our community.”

The 6-month program will officially launch in mid-December. Riders will pay an average of $1 to use the program to travel to the nearest designated bus stop where they’ll continue to their destinations on the bus. PSTA is providing a $5 discount per trip under the program.

”It’s exciting to work with our partners like Uber and taxis on this innovative program that benefits our customers,” said PSTA Board Chair Darden Rice.

September 19, 2016

Public transit agencies across the country are entering into partnerships with ride-sharing service Uber to supplement their service.

The partnerships range from direct subsidies for Uber riders heading to transit stops in the St. Petersburg, Fla., area to joint marketing in Philadelphia and North Carolina’s Research Triangle. The programs make sense for both groups because they both get increased ridership, officials say.

Uber couldn’t be reached for comment on the programs, but transit agencies said the partnerships have helped to increase ridership on their systems.

In Florida, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority ran a six-month trial that began in March during which the authority supplemented half the cost of an Uber rider’s trip up to $3 to or from a transit stop in a small, underserved part of its system. Media liaison Ashlie Handy said the deal with Uber wouldn’t allow her to release exact numbers, but the program was so successful that beginning Oct. 1 it will be expanded throughout the authority’s service area.

“What sold the program for me was when we got a call from a woman who wanted to know how to get to the bus stop that was more than a mile away,” Ms. Handy said. “Before, we had no other answer for her than to walk, but now she can use Uber.”

The program actually saved the authority money because it eliminated two little-used routes in the area that cost about $140,000 a year. The Uber subsidy cost $40,000.

Pressed by tight budgets, some towns are cutting transit lines and subsidizing car rides.

August 15, 2016

Pinellas Park, Florida, isn’t the kind of place where you'd expect to gain insight about the future of mass transit. The suburb of Tampa is as car-crazy as your average stretch of Floridian sprawl—the local landmarks include the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum and a drag racing strip—and anyone who can avoid the bus does. But recently the agency responsible for the area’s public transportation began a novel experiment: It stopped running two bus lines and started paying for a portion of Uber rides instead.

In Uber’s early days, it said it wanted to be “everyone’s private driver.” Now the company and its main U.S. competitor, Lyft, are playing around with the idea of becoming the bus driver, too. Uber has partnered with a handful of local public transportation agencies to strike deals like the one in Pinellas Park, which it expanded earlier this month. Later this month Lyft plans to launch a partnership with Centennial, Colorado, its first deal where a local government will subsidize its rides. The company also said it has helped a dozen transit agencies apply for federal grants that would pay for a portion of Lyft fares in situations where its drivers would effectively become part of the public transportation system.

Each of the current projects is tiny, but they could eventually be combined into something big, said Emily Castor, director of transportation policy at Lyft. “This is an area that has the potential to be a very significant part of Lyft’s work in the future,” she said. “How quickly will it progress from small pilots to being institutionalized in transit agencies? I think that’s harder to predict.”

Over the past several years, ride-hailing companies and local government officials have often had an uneasy, sometimes outright hostile relationship over regulation. The public transportation deals have been an oasis of rapprochement between them. In part, the ride-hailing deals are too small to seem threatening, according to Kyle Shelton, a program manager at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University. “It may affect some routes; it may affect service overall; but it’s not going to replace the main lines that carry thousands of riders per day,” he said.

Key Supporters