Have you heard? Some local transit agencies are partnering with taxi and other ride sharing companies to provide cheaper, more flexible options for paratransit services.

Boston’s regional transit agency, the MBTA, has recently partnered with local taxis for a paratransit pilot program in which they hope will help them save over $16 million in the 2017 fiscal year, if all goes well. They are also pursuing similar partnerships with ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

How does it work?

The MBTA has introduced the pilot program as a response to the growing complaints that they have been receiving about The Ride paratransit service, which usually requires riders to book 24 hours in advance and share rides with other customers.

Now, paratransit riders selected for the pilot study can call a number of participating taxi companies on-demand instead of The Ride’s dispatch center for a ride, and can now be picked up the same day.  Additionally, customers use a debit card provided by MBTA, which can only be used with select taxi companies, to pay for the trip.  For every $2.00 that the customer pays, MBTA will pitch in $13.00 on the debit card, and the customer will have to pay additional cash for any ride over $15.00.

Will it catch on?

Paratransit services currently account for over 30% of a transit agency’s operating budget. With paratransit operating costs currently averaging over $30.00/trip for agencies, cutting the trip cost down to $13.00/trip for agencies can make a huge difference, allocating more of their budgets for fixed-route services and transportation software that will prove beneficial to both their communities and their bottom lines.

Industry experts acknowledge that private taxis won’t be able to replace the on-call paratransit vans completely,  as wheelchair accessibility is still a factor that needs to be considered and cannot easily be accommodated by most taxi vehicles. However, many can take advantage of the new system, especially those paratransit customers that still want to utilize the bus or subway systems and need to use the personal ride services to get to the stations or stops.

With budget being such a widespread issue for agencies throughout the United States, finding a way to cut down on costs through these partnerships while still providing necessary services in a way that is flexible and customer-centric seems like a viable option for other agencies to adopt, if these pilot programs prove to be successful.

Connecting the dots

Previously, personal ride sharing services like Uber, Lyft, and taxis were seen as competitors to other modes of public transportation such as buses, trains, subways, and light rails with non emergency transportation software. Now, with partnerships such as MBTA’s, the transportation market is now becoming more connected than ever, working toward achieving the same goal: providing effective, efficient, convenient, and affordable transportation for local communities, and the idea is very exciting.

Public transportation has always been an integral part of every community, and it’s important to recognize the need for continuous improvement and optimization to address the needs of riders and the agencies that provide these services, and partnerships like these may prove to be very successful for agencies in the future.