At a time when governments have been leery about opening their borders to ride-share programs such as Lyft and Uber, St. Lucie County has taken a bold step, partnering with one to provide door-to-door service for those who qualify.
Just two weeks into the partnership with Lyft, it’s too early to tell how much use the ride-share company will get. However, as many as 20 residents have requested their free Lyft coupon through the county’s Transportation Department. So far, 15 have used it.
“Our transit planners think outside the box all day long,” said Murriah Dekel, transit planning manager in the Community Services Department.
The idea of partnering with Lyft stemmed from a need for a more cost-efficient way to get low-income, elderly and disabled residents to the Hands Clinic, which provides medical services to the uninsured.
Dekel said they were able to secure a grant from the Florida Department of Transportation for a shuttle, but it didn’t take long for her planners to see that there might be a better way to get people to and from the clinic.
“It’s the phoenix rising from the ashes,” she said, explaining that the supposed failure of the shuttle only made way for the partnership with local cab companies and, later, Lyft.
“We’re just kind of rolling with it,” she said.
Dekel said they first approached Uber as a transportation partner, but the company passed. Lyft, however, jumped at the opportunity.
“They could see the dollar signs,” she said of Lyft.
The county will pay Lyft for the fares the Direct Connect riders incur for traveling to their jobs, their medical appointments or to their schools. Being only two weeks in, the county has not yet received an invoice.
Lyft will bill for the actual fare – not a flat fee per ride – according to Dekel. And, there is what she calls a “geo-fence” that limits where riders can take their county-paid Lyft fare. That boundary includes Indian River and Martin counties, where St. Lucie residents might work, go to school, or receive medical care.
St. Lucie’s regular public transportation system does not flow into the neighboring counties, so Lyft – and the cab companies – fill that service gap.
Dekel said the county has merely added Lyft to its already established network of transportation providers, including cab companies. She said adding Lyft will help reach a growing number of millennial riders who are well-versed in using technology but not as confident in hailing a cab by way of a phone call.
Dekel said the students she’d spoken to at Keiser University told her they didn’t know how to get a cab, but they knew how to use an app.
And for those who aren’t familiar with smartphones and apps, the county’s transportation team can help hail a Lyft if needed through the concierge service.
Between May 22 and Sept. 30, local cab companies have provided 847 passenger trips totaling 11,020 miles at a cost of $19,000 to those who qualify for the county’s Direct Connect program. How Lyft ridership might affect those numbers remains to be seen.
Dekel said residents can call the “concierge” – Alfreda Souter at 772-462-2095 – and request a ride. Souter is also responsible for screening applicants to determine whether they qualify for the Direct Connect program.
Currently, there are approximately 100 riders in the county that qualify as elderly, disabled and/or economically disadvantaged.
Per St. Luce County, the following are the eligibility requirements:
- No personal funding is available for trips when existing public transportation services are in operation.
- No other means of transportation is available including but not limited to relatives, friends, neighbors or free services offered by another institution or agency.
- Physical or Mental Disability/Age:– Disabled and/or Elderly (60 years or older) as required by Section 5317 of the New Freedom Act.
- Ability to Pay: If a person cannot pay the fare for transportation service, the Community Transportation Coordinator (CTC), or a designated representative, will evaluate the client based on information collected via the CTC “Application for Assistance” and “Affidavit” stating the client’s need for after-hours transportation assistance.
- Income Qualification: Income Disadvantaged defined as 250 percent or less of the regional poverty level. Note: The CTC, or its designated party, shall make all program eligibility determinations. No self-declarations are permitted under any circumstances. The CTC, at their discretion, can allow program participants, on a case-by-case basis, to use Direct Connect services outside of the posted operating hours if a participant demonstrates that regular fixed-bus or paratransit services provided through St. Lucie County cannot reasonably service their transportation needs.
- Program Eligibility: Transportation Disadvantaged defined as Elderly (60 years or older), having a disability(s) that restricts mobility, and/or income constrained, as defined as a person whose income is 250 percent or less of the regional poverty level.