During a rather uneventful rush-hour on Friday, I ventured out to Eastgate and tried out Metro’s new ride-hailing service, “Ride2”, which is operated by Ford subsidiary Chariot. Service is available during weekday rush hours, from 6 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 8 p.m., and is booked using a smartphone app.
Installing and setting up the app was straightforward, only requiring a name, e-mail address, phone number, and password. There’s also an option to add your ORCA card to improve service (though it isn’t spelled out what the card data is used for) and another screen has an option to mark yourself as a person needing mobility assistance (which would book a wheelchair-ready van). There is also a dedicated phone number for riders without access to the app, which promises full functionality that is equal to the app version.
The app works for any trip originating from or heading to Eastgate Park-and-Ride, which has a dedicated drop-off area on the northeast side of the bus bays. The map screen lets you input an address or scroll around to drop a pin within the highlighted service area, which covers Factoria, Somerset, and Lake Hills.
Once a trip is requested, it can be summoned as soon as possible or scheduled for a later time within the next 24 hours. The app sends an estimated pick-up time as soon as a trip is confirmed and then notifies when the shuttle has arrived, giving you two minutes to board the correctly-numbered van.
I called for a shuttle while on the walk from the freeway median stop above the park-and-ride and had a shuttle waiting for me as soon as I was able to make the five-minute walk down to the designated pick-up area. The driver asked for my name and unlocked the side door, which rolls out with a little difficulty. The standard van has thirteen seats that weren’t particularly comfortable and a layout that would feel cramped with a full load of commuters; luckily, I was the only one on my requested trip to the Lake Hills Library, about 2.5 miles from the transit center.
The trip itself took about 15 minutes in moderate traffic, and I managed to save a few minutes that would have been spent on the slower Route 226 bus that meanders through the Bellevue College campus. Like other ride-share systems, the driver’s route is controlled through a mounted tablet, but it didn’t interfere with his driving and, according to him, was fairly lenient when it comes to where passengers can be safely dropped off.
After your trip is completed, the app will send you an optional survey that takes a minute to fill out. Requesting a return trip would have taken too long for me (though it would’ve been better to prepare a ride in advance using the scheduling feature), so I opted to ride one of Metro’s new Gillig buses that was on an Eastgate-bound trip on Route 226.
Overall, the service was speedy, easy to use, and much more convenient than some of the more unwieldy bus routes in the area. For the time being, the service has no fares, but Metro plans to charge the standard bus fare after the end of the pilot program using on-board ORCA card readers. With prices basically being free for transferring bus riders, I could see the Ride2 system being fairly popular and worth expanding into other underserved markets, particularly in the suburbs.
Earlier in the day, I attempted to use two older forms of “microtransit” in Issaquah: the freebie shuttle that runs every 30 minutes around town, and the flexible service on a community route in the Highlands. While the shuttle was easy enough to use, being a regular bus, requesting a shuttle diversion by phone was cumbersome and tiring, with several holds and no clear information. The Issaquah Highlands would be an excellent place to deploy Ride2 shuttles to complement or replace the existing shuttles, even if it remained time-restricted.