Sometimes, Pierce Transit asserts, you have to turn to non-traditional solutions to address traditional problems. A common issue transit riders face in Pierce County today is how to catch a bus ride in areas where stops are located far apart or transit is not readily available. Another can be finding a way to utilize public transit options later in the evening, after services have ended for the day. Crowded parking lots also make it hard for some riders to use rideshare services, commuter trains and fixed route transit.

Enter rideshare company Lyft. According to a recent study, 45 percent of Americans lack access to public transit today. The rideshare company Lyft believes that its mission is to change transportation for the better for riders and drivers. By partnering with local transit companies like Pierce Transit, Lyft is hoping to help bridge the gap between transit and the rider’s doorstep.

Pierce Transit Lyft info booth
In a 2017 survey, 25% of Lyft riders reported that they use the rideshare service to connect to public transit through programs like Pierce Transit’s Limited Connections Program. Photo courtesy: Pierce Transit

Pierce Transit’s Limited Access Connections program, which launched May 15, 2018, is a unique partnership between the two companies that aims to help people connect easily between their destinations and not-so-nearby transit centers and bus stops. Using this innovative service, riders can catch a Lyft ride within certain service zones to specific locations where they can access transit. Students at Pierce College Puyallup are even able to catch a Lyft ride home within a specific area after bus service has ended for the evening. And the best part? This service, available to use up to 48 times per person per month, is offered at no cost to commuters.

The limited-time opportunity comes to Pierce Transit courtesy of a $205,000 Mobility on Demand (MOD) Sandbox Demonstration Program federal grant. Pierce Transit received this funding in 2016 to explore new integrated, multimodal transportation options that can help people become more mobile and improve transportation efficiency.

Pierce Transit was one of just a handful of agencies across the U.S. to receive the MOD Sandbox grant. Once the pilot program is complete the Federal Transit Administration, which funded the grant, will evaluate whether the initiative’s funds helped increase mobility.

Goals for the project include helping people with limited or no access to transit be able to access that mobility option, addressing the problem of at-capacity Park & Rides, reducing congestion by getting more people on transit and meeting the transportation needs of more remote riders.

Pierce Transit Lyft Bus Stop Ad
Convenient connections are important. Sue Dreier, CEO, says that is why Pierce Transit is looking at new ways to entice riders to rely on public transit like a yearlong partnership with Lyft. Photo courtesy: Pierce Transit

Penny Grellier, Business Partnership Administrator, has played a major role in making this partnership a reality. She began researching opportunities like this one in 2015, and when a federal funding became available in the form of a federal grant, Pierce Transit felt it was a natural match.

“We do not have frequent service in all parts of our service area,” she explains, “and it is not economical to run fixed route in all parts of it. Providing a first-and-last-mile connection in partnership with a TNC (transportation networking company) is a great way to test this kind of connector service and will give us lots of information that will be useful as we move forward with service design.” Once the pilot is complete, Pierce Transit will explore ways to continue this type of service. This could mean operating its own on-demand Lyft-like service or contracting with a service like Lyft to provide it.

Working closely with a team of planners, Pierce Transit’s safety and training team, operations staff, as well as leadership and community volunteers, Penny designed this project from the ground up. The process is a straightforward one: to find out whether riders qualify for a no-charge ride, Pierce Transit has designed an interactive map tool that allows riders to type in an origin or destination. A pop-up box on their website will display when the zone closest to their location is active and what transit routes it connects to and from. Riders can also download the Lyft app and enter a promo code to request a ride. If their trip is located within a designated Limited Access Connections zone when a rider makes the request, the requester will see a zero-cost ride when they confirm their trip request.

Pierce Transit Lyft Meeker Days
The Limited Access Connections program is open to commuters in a handful of zones around the South Sound. Wheelchair-accessible vehicles are available, and riders can call Pierce Transit’s concierge service for help with scheduling if they don’t have access to a smartphone. Photo courtesy: Pierce Transit

Chief Executive Officer Sue Dreier says that Pierce Transit knows fixed-route service is not enough for today’s commuter. “At Pierce Transit, we are focused on providing innovative transportation options that will entice our neighbors onto affordable public transportation and keep them there,” says Sue.

One such rider is Jonell Manning, who says she first heard about the partnership with Pierce Transit and Lyft on the local news. Her experience has been so positive that she recommends it to all her friends. Before taking part in this pilot program, Jonell was spending $20 to $30 in taxi fare to run errands.

Walking to her local transit center used to be difficult due to the great distance between her home and the nearest bus stop. Thanks to this program, Jonell can access transit so she can hit the store, grab a coffee and just get out of the house in general. She uses the service to connect to downtown Tacoma on Route 42 and Route 202 to get into Lakewood. Without Lyft and Pierce Transit, she says she simply wouldn’t be able to get out and about like she can now.

As far as ease of use, Jonell gives the program high marks. Not only can riders access the program via the Lyft app, there is also an option for people without a smartphone. Jonell simply calls the program’s Concierge number and they’re able to book the ride for her. Rides, she says, come with no problem. The drivers are nice, and the cars are clean.

Intrigued? Pierce Transit hopes riders will check the service out for themselves and offer their feedback. To give it a try, simply download the Lyft app and set up an account. Use the interactive map tool to check your pick-up zone for eligibility or call the project’s Concierge service at 253-581-8032 for help booking your ride if you don’t own a smartphone.

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