Uber’s missing link

Is Sac RT’s “Station Link” program excluding some disabled riders?

For this week’s interview I talked with Chris Jensen of Resources for Independent Living. Chris is a long-time advocate for better access for low-income and disabled folks on Sacramento Regional Transit.

He’s been keeping his eye on a new pilot program called Station Link which RT has begun, to subsidize rides on Uber and Lyft to and from certain light rail stations. If you get picked up or dropped off at one of those 6 stations, you get a $5 discount from Uber, Lyft or Yellow Cab.

Like a lot of public transit systems, Sacramento Regional Transit is experimenting with outsourcing some of its service to Uber and other “ride share” (ride selling) companies.

It’s hard to tell, in 2016, how Uber and other transportation network companies will affect the long term prospects for public transit systems, especially if self driving cars become common. But already systems are turning to these companies to fill in gaps in service, or even replace some routes.

If you listened to the earlier podcast episode I did with Dr Greg Thompson, he suggested that the future for urban transit agencies like Sacramento Regional Transit may lie, to some extent, in being “brokers” and connectors to several different transit services. Here’s a longer, less edited version of that part of our conversation:

As part of its application for the US Department of Transportation’s Smart Cities Grant Challenge last year, the City of Sacramento wrote up a whole proposal for contracting with Uber and other TNC’s (transportation network companies) — and then eventually fleets of autonomous vehicles (driverless cars) — to provide “last mile” service to the light rail system. Sacramento didn’t win; lots of cities had similar ideas. But it’s interesting to see where Sacramento thinks public transit is eventually going. And its interesting that in the proposal the City and Sac RT contemplated Uber vouchers for low-income riders. Makes some sense, if you figures that a public transit agency’s job is to move people around, not to run buses and trains.

But in practice, how will the Uberfication of public transit work out for the transit dependent? We may be getting a glimpse now with the Station Link program.

Jensen says it looks like Station Link is not equally accessible, particularly to people who use wheelchairs or have other mobility challenges. He wants RT to take a closer look, and to make sure everyone can take advantage of the new services and new technologies.

Just a reminder that you can listen to these interviews on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play and other podcast services. You can also catch them on KUBU 96.5 FM every Tuesday at 5 pm. You can even sign up to get an email whenever new interviews are posted.

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