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Can transit and sharing economy coexist? A Bay Area experiment begins

The Livermore Amador Valley Transit Authority plans to start subsidizing Lyft, Uber fares

A new partnership between ride sharing companies and a San Francisco Bay Area transit authority could have greater implications for how public and private entities work together in the future.

In an effort to improve service for Easy Bay residents, the Livermore Amador Valley Transit Authority plans to start subsidizing fares of people who take private rideshare Uber and Lyft cars instead of riding the bus.

The experiment by the Wheels public bus system operated by the Transit Authority, will operate in two test areas of Dublin, a suburban community east of Oakland, and passengers will be eligible to receive door-to-door service at a discount under a partnership between Uber and Lyft and Wheels, according to a story in the San Jose Mercury News.

It’s a one year pilot project which could open up new ways that public transit agencies serve areas not widely served by conventional bus and rail lines, filling in gaps where there are fewer riders and less money from fares. As cities keep growing, many transit authorities around the nation are finding it difficult to keep up and address new areas of service. Working with ride sharing entities or taxi services may be a new way to help fill in those gaps.

"Our board is very interested in trying to use new technology in a creative way to improve service and efficiencies in suburban areas that are traditionally very challenging to serve," said Michael Tree, the valley transit authority's executive director in the Mercury News story. "We are the first transit agency in the West actively planning this type of service."

The pilot program is set to begin in mid-September. How it will work is that passengers would order a ride on the respective app and then the driver would pick up that passenger and perhaps others on the same route. The rideshares would save costs to the transit system while being able to serve underserved areas.

The local Teamsters union isn’t happy with the deal, however, as they don’t like the idea of a union agency working with independent, non-union drivers. The Teamster Local 70 stated that the Transit Authority should have worked with the union to find a cost-effective solution. That hasn’t prevented the plan from moving forward, and if unions want to keep up with changes in public transportation, they need to get in on the conversation early.

If the pilot program in the bay is a success, it may be implemented and expanded as ridership demands, giving clues to how this could work in other communities.

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