Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority rolls out plan to pay half its passengers' Uber tabs in East Lake and Pinellas Park
PINELLAS PARK — The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority will cover half of a passenger’s Uber bill — if they’re going to or from a bus stop in designated zones in East Lake and Pinellas Park.
The partnership started Monday and includes United Cab. It is the first of its kind in the country, according to PSTA spokeswoman Ashlie Handy. Hillsborough's transit authority hopes to roll out its own first-mile, last-mile program next month.
Figuring out how to solve the first-mile, last-mile problem — how to get riders from where the bus ends to their ultimate destination, like a job or home — is one of the foremost problems for transit agencies. PSTA is hoping this program will go a long way toward solving that problem and increasing ridership.
The PSTA program, known as Direct Connect, is currently only available in Pinellas Park (for Uber and United Taxi) and East Lake (United Taxi only). PSTA will pay half the cost of a ride, covering up to $3, that is destined for or originating from a PSTA bus stop in those zones.
That means if the ride from the bus stop to work cost $4, PSTA would subsidize $2 of that fare. Anything greater than $6 only yields a $3 subsidy.
If the six-month pilot project goes well, PSTA CEO Brad Miller said the program will likely expand to other parts of the county.
“Once we make it easy for someone to get to the bus stop, riding the bus becomes a real transportation alternative,” Miller said.
Direct Connect replaces the East Lake Connector, an underperforming route that ran along Keystone and East Lake roads between Tarpon Mall and the Shoppes at Boot Ranch. Previously, riders who live within ¾ of mile of the route could make a reservation and the bus would come to them. It was the agency’s second-lowest performing route, with an average weekday ridership of 26.
PSTA has allocated $40,000 for the first six months of Direct Connect. It cost $160,000 to run the East Lake Connector for one year.
Under the new system, riders will open their Uber app and toggle over to the PSTA option. They can then page a nearby driver, and the credit will be automatically applied.
“It looks super legit to see PSTA on the Uber app,” Handy said.
Those who prefer to take a taxi can call United Cab or download their app. Unlike Uber, United Cab allows riders to pay with cash and a smart phone isn’t required to page a ride.
Those who go the cab route also don’t have to worry about incurring Uber’s dreaded surge pricing, in which prices spike based on supply and demand.
Surge pricing typically doubles or triples the cost of the ride, but has risen to as much as 10 times a fare on busy days such as Halloween and New Year’s Eve.
Drive Connect is not immune from surge pricing — which means that three-dollar subsidy might not go that far.
The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is looking to approve a similar first-mile, last-mile partnership next month. This one, however, won’t include Uber.
“We did bid on their process,” Uber spokeswoman Christine Mitchell. “However, we were not awarded the contract.”
The details have not been finalized, but HART is crafting a program that aims to subsidize $3 of a fare for passengers in a 3-mile radius of any bus stop.