Beginning Monday, potential riders in some areas of Pierce County will have the option of a free Lyft ride to or from a nearby transit hub. The Federal Transit Administration is providing the $205,000 for this one-year pilot. From the press release:

The Limited Access Connection project’s goals include addressing mobility challenges for those with limited or no access to transit; finding solutions for the growing problem of at-capacity Park & Rides; reducing road congestion by getting more people on transit; guaranteeing a ride home for those traveling outside regular bus service hours; and meeting the transportation needs of more remote riders. These objectives are unique in that they are focused on helping connect people to/from transit.

The concept is pretty simple. If you’re in one of the shaded areas, you can request a Lyft ride with a special promo code, as long as your destination is one of the designated transit stops. Similarly, you can travel from one of those hubs to one of the areas. Riders are limited to a total of 48 free rides per month.

Regrettably, the rules get a bit more complicated than that. 4 of the promo codes apply seven days a week, while 2 others (18RAIDERS and 18FIFEPUY) are weekday only. The hours are different for each: most cover the bulk of the day, but 18RAIDERS is only from 8:30-10:30pm when bus service to the campus stops.

Creative ways to solve last-mile problems are great, and spending $205,000 on this sure beats building 2 or 3 park and ride spaces. I doubt that having this service be entirely free is sustainable, but one hopes it’s successful enough for PT to find some way to keep it going.

Whether or not things pencil out in 2018, this is probably the future of exurban and rural transit. Assuming that automated cars are ultimately workable, it’s hard to see why transit agencies would continue to operate traditional buses on low-volume coverage routes, even as the major trunk lines will still require large vehicles. Whether those vehicles are best actually owned and maintained by the agency or a contractor is an open question. This and the 10 other pilots nationwide may help to answer it.

Wheelchair-accessible vehicles are available by phone, though not through the Lyft app. Smartphone-less riders can also use the phone or a webpage.

33 Replies to “Pierce Transit Experimenting with Lyft Rides”

  1. I agree that this ,or something approximately similar, is probably the future of rural/exurban transit. I could easily see something like this paired with a van. “OK, we’ve got 6 people who need a ride out of Lo-Densia, fire up the van and collect them”.

    I simply don’t understand the economic and moral point of having a bus service out into rural & low-density areas that isn’t, e.g., Greyhound or other hub-to-hub service. It’s just not *effective*. Particularly when frequencies get so low. On-demand is going to be so much more effective..

    I’d prefer to see the Transit Authority run these services,as that allows the most accountability, but it should be an interesting and educational experience to see how Lyft does it.

    1. In very limited cases it might be the future. However, the required budget for Twin Transit in Centralia increased substantially when they moved to replace significant trips with paratransit. You have to have a lot of single rider bus trips for what is essentially a taxi service to be economically advantageous.

      1. Starting in the 1970’s, many people in transit honestly believed that if you called it “paratransit”, you could save money by replacing line-haul transit with radio dispatched vans.

        Main problem being that to serve multiple boardings and destinations on the same run, your vehicle has to be extremely slow. So for what’s essentially taxicab service, you’ve got to limit number of stops. Meaning: “Call a cab.” Like Uber of Lyft.


    2. A Metro passenger trip costs $11 to provide. An Access paratransit trip costs $40. Part of that is the low number of passengers per mile driven, and part of it is because large wheelchair-accessible vans use more gas than sedan cars or twelve people on a bus..

      1. Enter in that average bus is in a different world of construction than average van. Which is often a delivery truck with a passenger cabin on the bed. First vehicle will take many times the amount of wear than the second.


  2. How many lift rides can one car make in a 1hr period in rush hour? The distances seem short but each driver will have a little dwell time between dropping one person off and heading off to pick up there next rider.

    If you assume one lift driver can do 5 round trips in an hour do do a way with a 1000 car parking garage you would need 200 lift drives. This is more of a thought experiment but will this method scale.

    1. Jarrett Walker has done several posts on this topic in the Human Transit blog. Best case, one driver can make 5 per hour, even without rush hour traffic. This assumes each trip is a 6-minute drive, followed by a 6-minute deadhead to pick up the next passenger. These assumptions are probably optimistic.

      Even an hourly bus with just 10 people on board carries more riders than this, but, of course, the taxpayer subsidy for the hourly bus is probably higher, and the usability for the riders, much, much lower.

      1. I’ll have to look at Jarrett Walker’s post on this, but I’m curious if his analysis presumes one car per passenger? Lyft Line can do one car per four passengers, and this sort of one to many / many to one routing is ideal to do this.

  3. The Uber-solution has a weak link: a driver has to be willing to go out to Nowhersville with no likely return fare and a set rate. That’s the taxi model, not the way Ubermenschen think.

    1. Yes, this is Lyft, which is a better company, but the opportunities for snark are so much greater with Uber….. Jes’ sayin’

    2. It’s a short distance, like Metro’s dial-a-ride areas. It’s not like going from Issaquah to Snoqualmie with five miles of nothingness in between. This is in lieu of fixed routes to every low-density arterial and isolated house, so the cost should be compared to that. Not serving those areas at all is not acceptable if we want to get people out of their cars for environmental, national security, and maybe social reasons. There’s a related issue of why these houses are so low-density and isolated in the first place, but the community has already decided yes on that, so this is a necessary corollary, like running electric and sewer lines and mail routes to them. Hopefully the community will change its mind and promote denser, more walkable neighborhoods, but even in that case there will still need to be legacy service and a multi-year transition plan for as long as these low-density areas exist.

      1. Mike, this is a joke. Two hundred and five thousand dollars will be used up in a month by riders to “the Puyallup Sounder station” and “Tacoma Dome Station”. With Tacoma Link’s careless ride on downtown, why would people headed into downtown Tacoma or downtown Puyallup pass up a free ride. And each rider can use the service 48 times a month?????

        How much do they expect to pay the Lyft driver Said? Three dollars?

        This is transit theater.

      2. “fareless” not “careless”, iPad autocorrect…..

        And I don’t know where the “Said” came from. Ignore it please.The sentence should end “the Lyft drivers?”

    3. Really a lot of experience with this kind of service, Richard. But maybe it would make the expense less painful if they didn’t paint all of them black and call them limousines.

      Or left them black and just put purple mustaches on the grill. But we’re missing a badly missed put-down because the most cowardly political correctness. “Limousine Progressives” is even more puzzling than liberals getting buffaloed by Rush Limbaugh into to name themselves after a political movement founded by Republicans.

      Probably most justified complaint about this movement at its late 1800’s or early 1900’s inception was that civil service exams were so far beyond hard working business people who kept the political system operating by paying politicians an honest fee for service.

      Though a little gratitude where it’s do. The kind of Republicans who called themselves Progressives had strong hand in creating Metro Transit. Their idea of “conservative” was ability to read a balance sheet. Which was important if you wanted not to take the country into a trillion dollar debt by cutting taxes on the rich.

      So best bring back the L-word. “Pro-LINK Progressives” has too many letters and syllables.


  4. As the region densifies, and Tacoma parking gets built to City-minimums, folks from these exurban areas will find themselves increasingly excluded. The 8′ wide 16.5′ deep parking space simply doesn’t accommodate a large pickup truck or SUV, the vehicle of choice for so many people in these exurban areas. Folks from South Prairie and Spanaway will increasingly be traveling to Tacoma for fewer and fewer of their tasks (work, shopping, etc). As areas of Tacoma build up and infill, the population density will fill the void left by the exurbanites. What the country folk choose to do as they find themselves excluded is their choice, but I doubt that many will choose to take transit, even if it is connected by a glorified and subsidized taxi. I predict that most will face the choice between move in to the city, or take a job somewhere else. A segment will just pursue retirement. Those that change jobs will largely be a part of creating Olympia as the next phase of the Puget Sound Urban Area. Exurban areas are increasingly becoming retirement communities/rich folk neighborhoods. Working folks can’t handle the commute, and increasingly, young people can’t afford the large acreages at our skyrocketing real estate prices.

  5. “Those that change jobs will largely be a part of creating Olympia as the next phase of the Puget Sound Urban Area.”

    Engineer, you’ve made my day, for being the second person in transit history to mention Olympia in the future tense. Ten minute train ride south of Dupont. Twenty minute express ride to Downtown, with buses repurposed from last assignment on 592.

    And now….Lyft could not only boost ridership for a new freeway-free ride, but also reduce amount of parking needed around the station. This isn’t our grandfathers’ Thurston county, and not only because its main crop is now legal. And to make sure of that demographic, I’m not associating with anybody retired while I’m on sabbatical.

    These 66-year olds don’t realize how good they’ve got things! And before they even think about driving for Lyft, they need to google old “Laugh-In” episodes where Artie Johnson demonstrates that drivers who call lady passengers “My little chickadee” all the time get their head slapped around backwards with a purse! Too bad they weren’t even born when he was on the air!


  6. “Assuming that automated cars are ultimately workable, it’s hard to see why transit agencies would continue to operate traditional buses on low-volume coverage routes”

    Nah, you maintain the routes, bump them up to 15-minute service, and use smaller vehicles.

    1. It depends on how many people are along the route. Does the tail of the 27 (Lakeside Ave S) need fixed-route service, or is it only there because there’s no middle choice between a fixed route and paratransit-only? And the 21? The 226 in Bellevue? Whatever’s in Beaux Arts, Enatai, and Medina now? What about the coverage routes that were cut in the recession (25, 30, 61), or the former 15, 18, and 28 north of 85th Street? The parts of east Kent that have only peak routes or vans?

      1. All of those (and then some) would easily within reach of a good automated transit system. If you can stand there, in the middle of the day, and see vehicles going by, then it makes sense for a good transit system. If you can’t (if you have to wait a minute or two to see a car) then it doesn’t.

        I know, it isn’t intuitive. It is easy to assume that a “smart” point to point system would actually be a better value. But start walking through it, step by step. I’ve done the exercise before — fixed route, fixed time becomes better very quickly.

        If you don’t share the ride, then things become very expensive very quickly. You almost immediately realize the value of a fixed time system. Otherwise you need lots of extra vehicles to serve an area (in case there is a sudden rush) which could mean very long waits for riders. It also becomes apparent that it makes sense to share a ride (because otherwise you need lots of extra cars). When you share a ride, there is also great benefit to sticking to the main corridor (otherwise, everyone else has to detour). There is also great benefit to building a grid (i. e. having all the vehicles just serve the corridor, instead of going to different locations). The savings are big (and have been mathematically proven). Walking a couple blocks to catch the bus (or van) along with having to transfer is a bit of a pain, but it is a very efficient way to build a system.

        Put it another way: If there are no drivers, then the biggest cost of a transit system are the vehicles. You need as many as can handle peak load. A grid, with fixed route, fixed time service would get you the smallest number of vehicles needed to provide service during peak.

      2. “If you can stand there, in the middle of the day, and see vehicles going by, then it makes sense for a good transit system. If you can’t (if you have to wait a minute or two to see a car) then it doesn’t.”

        You’re overestimating the number of cars on those streets on a weekend morning. They’re not like Bellevue Avenue where almost every time I cross the street I have to wait for a car. On Lakeside Boulevard you might see a car every minute or two.

      3. I doubt it is usually that deserted. Google street view shows cars both directions. It is a low density area, but it isn’t that low. As luck would have it, the census map has a census block that largely surrounds that street (it is a funny shaped one that hugs the coast). It has about 3,000 people per square mile, which is very low for Seattle, but still not as low as some of the industrial areas in the city, or rural spots outside it. It is “just houses”, but houses nonetheless. For a fair number of people it is the main corridor — or at least the main option as far as transit is concerned. Which is not to say that there might not be better options. You could run a van on Lake Washington Boulevard (since it would be a van, not a bus) but either way, serving that section of town, with a van, would be a reasonable thing to do.

        The point being that if you were to serve it with direct, on demand service, you would probably get well over 100 riders a day. That is piddly, practically meaningless ridership for a bus, but just fine for an automated van. That kind of demand is cheaper to serve with a fixed route, fixed time van than it is a fleet of taxi-cabs.

        I don’t think that very many people realize how revolutionary automated public transportation could be. There hasn’t been a lot of coverage — in part, because there is no money in it. The taxi-cab companies are drooling over the possibility of not only providing traditional cab service for a lot less money, but replacing mass transit systems. The plan is to emphasize the stereotypes (government is slow, inefficient, etc.) while eagerly grabbing a good chunk of the public purse. But the improvement in automated taxi-service is relatively minor. It still doesn’t scale. You still need lots of vehicles. They still get stuck in traffic.

        But with automated transit, it means that many areas — possibly most areas — could have good, affordable public transit. Suddenly running vans makes sense. That is no minor thing. Running vans right now is extremely expensive. You are paying for a driver, and at best they carry a dozen or so riders. But with an automated system, running vans becomes dirt cheap. They cost less than buses (to both buy and maintain) which means it really doesn’t cost much to run a bunch of them, even if they are often empty.

        That means that much of the country can be part of that wonderful virtuous cycle that involves better and better headways. If implemented properly, people will wonder why they didn’t do this sooner, and the answer will be “because the technology didn’t make it cheap”.

        In that regard, it is no different than numerous software techniques we all take for granted. One of the more recent is storing things “on the cloud”. People store not only photographs, but entire videos — on the internet — for free! That would be considered crazy just a few years ago. But hard drives kept getting cheaper, for the average user download speeds are fast (while upload speeds are slow), and suddenly it just makes sense. Fundamentally, it isn’t much different than storing things on the mainframe (which came before PCs) so it really is nothing new, it is just that technology has made it so much cheaper.

        We could run a fleet of buses right now, if we wanted to spend the money. We don’t, so instead we run an inefficient mix of barely adequate transit service, a handful of luxury private taxi-cab service and lots of relatively expensive vehicles driven by their owners. When driving is removed, the big winner in terms of mode is transit — by a wide margin.

      4. “I don’t think that very many people realize how revolutionary automated public transportation could be.”

        I just don’t think autonomous vehicles are coming anytime soon, and first they’ll be limited to a few low-risk corridors where the number of vehicles per route is enough to justify expensive research and mitigation in the particular corridor to make sure the car doesn’t run into oedestians and bikes and other cars doing unexpected things or with an unexpected light angle on them like one did recently. They say the cars are almost ready but when it comes closer to mass deployment they’ll either slow it down or there will be a lot of collisions. Hopefully it won’t be the latter.It’s one thing to run an autonomous bus on a high-volume corridor on a relatively simple route, or for companies to have a fleet of trucks that go to the same places repeatedly, but it’s another thing to have autonomous cars go all over the edges of the suburbs on streets that won’t get such extensive researching and children and pets life next to.

      5. Actually, a fixed-route scheduled transit van is the ideal test bed for self-driving vehicle. The vehicle is going the same places every day (no need to learn new routes) and running down suburban streets that lack the complex driving of the ultra-busy corridors.

      6. Ross, running vans will never be “dirt cheap”. The vans are relatively cheaply made trucks which might run 200,000 miles before their maintenance costs reach unacceptable levels and their reliability evaporates.

        Sure, they’ll save driver salaries. But a bus costs about $200 per hour to operate, right? Well, Gollicky-Moe, Uncle Dan-Dan, even at $30 per hour that’s less than a seventh of the total.

        And of course automated vehicles will cost more than a driver operated van. There are the lidar’s, the honkin’ powerful AI computers, the monthly subscription to the REAL Google Earth to keep up-to-date on road construction lane-closures and whatnot.

        Nirvana never arrives, Grasshopper. It is not found or attained. The student creates it within.”

      7. “The vehicle is going the same places every day (no need to learn new routes)”

        The problem is that on a regionwide scale it’s not a small handful of Very Important Routes but dozens of Least-Important Rotes, and what can justify spending the resources to plan the routes and make the cars learn them?

    2. Exactly. A lot of taxi cab advocated seem to forget that buses can be automated just as well as cabs can. When they are, the savings are huge, and you easily enter into a virtuous transit cycle. It becomes easier to make a grid when you have much better headways (the transfers are less painful). That in turn means your system is even more efficient, leading to even better headways. A city like Seattle could have a mix of buses and vans on every arterial. Think five minute headways, not fifteen.

      Meanwhile, areas like Tacoma get decent service. Not quite the same, of course, but every major corridor could have 15 minute headways. It really isn’t until you get into very rural areas where an automated taxi-cab service actually becomes a better value. A fixed route, fixed time, grid based system that requires riders to walk a couple blocks and maybe make a transfer is just a much more efficient system. It requires way less fuel, and way fewer vehicles (which are likely to be the highest cost as things automated).

      1. So Somerset Hill and the area between it and Issaquah and the low-density mountains in Issaquah might have robobuses on all their residential arterials that currently have no or almost-no service?

      2. I don’t know idea where Somerset Hill is, but by the sound of it, it may be one of the “very rural areas where an automated taxi-cab service actually becomes a better value.”

    3. One really good way to know how close we are to reliable automatic vehicles:

      Wait until every single bus route in the service area can run every single mile of service on a lane strictly forbidden to anything but buses. With all signals automatically pre-empted for bus transit. Then let’s talk about it.


  7. Recalling comments over a posting a few days back, question comes to mind. What’s the cost to the country of one long-germ unemployed person? Professional driving is a much-needed skill calling for a very high level of skill.

    That does not take a whole debt-ridden life to learn. The way I’d judge whether it’s time to automate is when the last person who really loved doing the work retires or dies. Not least that for a number of years before their time at work and also on Earth runs out, they’ll be adding the exact input that anything robotic needs.

    But even better, there’ll be more time to train a whole cadre of beneficial scolds to go around berating machines whose way of life not only harms them, but but really ruins property values. Worst of all is when the wire frays through on their horn.

    Damn it, nobody ever gave ME free electric tape to shut up.


  8. Neat idea for edge cases.

    The fly in the soup here is ignoring existing things that could be improved rather than adding more chaos to the existing system. E.g. Connector buses at Sounder stations.

    1. On the other hand, with that specific case, which stations would make sense to have Connector buses? There’s already the 566/567 running from Auburn, Kent, and Renton; and there’re already a few Connectors running from I-5 parallel to North Sounder. Even from Link, it’s more convenient to take a train to UW Station and transfer to the 541/542.

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