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When Uber Replaces the Bus: Learning from the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority's "Direct Connect" Pilot
"The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), in Pinellas County, FL, was the first transit agency in the US to sign a service provision agreement with a transportation network company (TNC) to offer joint first/last-mile service subsidized by public dollars. PSTA’s “Direct Connect” pilot allows riders to get to and from bus stops in a taxi, wheelchair-accessible vehicle (WAV), or Uber TNC vehicle at a subsidized rate. PSTA’s overall experience developing, managing, and adapting the Direct Connect pilot provides insight into what transit agencies can expect when working with on-demand service providers. While operating on a larger scale, in a denser environment, or with a different ridership base may have offered different lessons in implementation, the Direct Connect pilot’s service design shows what is necessary for a successful launch of a pilot program: good data and transparency from all parties, as well as concrete plans for outreach and evaluation."
Launching the pilot required public champions. The fact that a complex, highly-visible pilot developed so soon after a major funding setback for PSTA speaks to the organizational resilience and dedication of key leadership and staff in seeking new ways to provide service.
Rider engagement pays off. Initial ridership gains closely followed ground-based marketing efforts. In a functionally different service design involving new technology, time and energy must be spent engaging and educating potential riders.
Maintain options and flexibility to iterate. While the execution of bringing in new providers or providing equal access has not been seamless, PSTA deserves credit for a willingness to evolve the service design and to keep participation open to multiple providers. The pilot is richer for leveraging the diversity of TNC, taxi and wheelchair-accessible service.
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