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CARTA weighs ride-hailing partner pilot program

Staff //February 20, 2020//

CARTA weighs ride-hailing partner pilot program

Staff //February 20, 2020//

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The Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority is considering partnering with a ride-hailing company such as Uber or Lyft in order to make its service more efficient in downtown Charleston.

The pilot program, unanimously approved Wednesday by CARTA’s board, would allow seniors 55 and older and qualified Tel-A-Ride customers to receive a $5 subsidy on any ride that begins or ends in the medical district between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Jon Dodson, planner with CARTA and the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester County of Governments, said the average ride-hailing trip downtown costs about $7 and travels 2 miles, which means customers would end up paying about $2 out of pocket.

CARTA is currently preparing a request for proposals to choose a vendor for the pilot program.

The program would be funded by a combination of grant funding and the elimination of Route 204, the MUSC / Calhoun Circulator, which Dodson said has the lowest productivity in the CARTA system. It costs $41 per passenger to run Route 204, with an average of 1.7 riders per hour.

“This is an area where the route’s not performing very well,” said CARTA Executive Director Ron Mitchum. “We’ve tried several different things, and really haven’t seen much increase in ridership, so … we do think this may have a place in our system.”

Tel-A-Ride costs CARTA $30 per trip to operate and costs customers $4 to ride.

Mitchum said partnering with ride-hailing companies isn’t a strategy to cut costs or avoid spending money, though.

“This gives us the ability to potentially serve more people within the same budget,” he said.

He added that he’ll probably hold a pre-proposal meeting with potential ride-hailing vendors so that everyone is on the same page about what CARTA is trying to accomplish.

Mitchum told CARTA’s board that he expects ride-hailing drivers to be able to function as they normally do, picking up passengers as they request rides, but those that opt in to picking up CARTA customers would be expected to guarantee certain services, such as getting out of the car to open the door and help passengers in.

“We’re not talking about having to deal with something that’s going to take a lot of time,” he said. “I think it’s just making sure they get in the car, get out of the car safely — that kind of thing.”

Additionally, Mitchum said he will ensure that Tel-A-Ride customers are still able to book rides to and from the medical district by calling CARTA, so that people without smartphones will be able to use the ride-hailing service.

If the pilot program is successful, Mitchum said it could be expanded to other areas on a case-by-case basis.

“I think it’s one of those things that we would have to incrementally expand the service areas,” he said. “But what we were trying to focus on first and foremost is all those folks who are trying to get to their doctor’s appointments. … I think we have to be incremental in it, though, from the standpoint of we have a limited budget and we can’t open it up to the entire service area because we could lose control real fast.”