Rabbit Transit eyes Uber, Lyft to help stretch funds

Jana Benscoter

Rabbit Transit officials want to connect aging individuals to modern-day technology through ride-sharing apps such as Uber if it's financially prudent.

A six-month pilot program conducted in York County is guiding officials to understand how best to use all available resources at their fingertips. 

The nontraditional approach is being investigated in order to stretch a dollar and provide a ride to a growing aging population, Rabbit Transit executive director Richard Farr said. The partnership between Uber, Lyft and Rabbit Transit might soon become the norm for Rabbit Transit service areas. 

Rabbit Transit Executive Director Richard Farr is working toward bringing easier food access to York City residents. Submitted/photo

Hailing a chariot through an app can be costly, Farr said. But thinking outside the box using third-party private companies is not new, he added. "Shared ride" services, or paratransit, offer door-to-door rides to seniors and people with disabilities. 

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The public-private venture win is that Uber and Lyft help the regional transportation provider to indirectly expand their bus system's fleet. The challenge is how to allocate a portion of Pennsylvania Lottery proceeds to fund the trips. 

Lottery proceeds are currently used to subsidize riders' Rabbit Transit fares. However, when including Uber and Lyft into shared-ride services, it becomes complicated because Uber and Lyft expect payment up front. 

A driver displays their Lyft and Uber stickers on his front windshield (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

Currently, seniors make co-payments when using shared-ride services, Farr said. That's something he would like to make less confusing for them, he said, adding Uber and Lyft  also are trying to figure out how they can play a role in helping the aging population with independent living. 

Finding the balance between rates the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation sets for Rabbit Transit fares and what Rabbit Transit can spend on individual shared rides remains a mystery, Farr explained.  

The budgeting puzzle is figuring how much to spend on Uber and Lyft, when their fare rates, unlike bus rates, change based on day, time and location as the app is used to hail a ride, he said. 

A 2017 Transit Development Plan, produced by the York County Planning Commission, shows that a Rabbit Transit bus ride is most likely going to cost $1.60 per ride. And the report highlights the cost for an Uber could range from $14 up to $53. 

Farr said the question remains, "How do we invest wisely in technology that will give us the longest return on investment?"