August 19 2019

Taxi and Rideshare Program Test Pilot Proposed as B-Line Shuts Down

By: Tad Stephanak

The Town of Burlington is looking to try out a new public transportation system using Uber, Lyft and taxis.

For three years, town officials have been working on a solution to the B-Line’s deteriorating ridership and efficiency. The issue was on the agenda of the August 12 Board of Selectmen meeting where Town Administrator Paul Sagarino stated the economic reality of eliminating the B-Line service.

“We made the difficult decision to discontinue the B-Line at the end of the fiscal year [July 2020],” he said. “The ridership numbers make it impossible to continue the service as we know it.”

DPW Director John Sanchez and Council On Aging Director Marge McDonald have been working on transport alternatives, not only in town but with Lexington and Bedford. Both were before the board to propose a new pilot transportation program while the B-Line is still running.  

The state has issued a Request For Proposal for transportation grants, both capital and operating. McDonald informed the board that she applied for a grant for a new COA Van and a federal grant to subsidize half the cost of public Uber, Lyft and taxi services.

“Other towns have started to do that and it seems to be the wave of the future,” she said. “We decided to do a pilot program to work out any kinks before we have a big grant we have to answer to.” 

According to Sanchez, the town still has funds from the MBTA grant for the current B-line services. With the permission of Town Meeting they’d like to use the funds from the B-Line account for a six month pilot program. Sanchez explained how subsidies would work. 

“The program would provide financial assistance to elderly, disabled and/or household income eligible residents,” Sanchez told the board. “To help those we believe the Burlington transit is helping today.” 

The COA will issue checks to those who need transportation with the ability to audit those receiving the subsidy to make sure they’re using the funds for transportation. The pilot program funds will be issued for 6 months, but in the future the funds would be provided on a yearly basis. 

“We believe this program will work better for the residents,” Sanchez explained. “Using a taxi, Lyft, Uber will be a point to point transportation as opposed to what it is right now and it will be on demand.”

The program will also make transportation available for nights and weekends, something the B-Line doesn’t cover. The program will offer $10 a ride. The average cost of an Uber ride in Burlington is about $10 so the cost of each ride might be covered by the subsidies. Sanchez noted that under the current B-Line system the cost per ride is roughly $14 for the town so the new program looks to be more cost effective. 

“This allows us to continue to provide transportation services to the residents, probably better than the service they’re receiving right now and hopefully with no major inconvenience to the budget,” he said. “For many years as we were running the Burlington transit we were utilizing the revolving fund and not asking for a lot of money at Town Meeting. So going forward the town will have to support 50 percent of the budget if they get the grant or 100 percent of this program.” 

It was noted the Burlington Transit Authority voted unanimously in favor of the program. 

BNEWS reached out to COA Director Marge McDonald and asked about senior citizens smartphone and App savvy when it comes to ordering an Uber or Lyft ride. McDonald responded that the COA will offer classes in the use of the apps. 

“We’re also going to suggest a service called GoGoGrandparent,” she said. “Seniors can call the service to order a ride, through, it does come with a cost.

As to the question of ride services being able to accommodate those in wheelchairs and the disabled; McDonald commented that currently the B-Line doesn’t accommodate for wheelchairs. She added that there are Uber and Lyft vehicles that can carry the wheelchair bound.

“The Ride by MBTA will always be there with handicapped access,” McDonald stated. 

The town will know in November if the grants for the COA van and the transportation service are awarded. 

A Warrant will be presented at September Town Meeting informing them of the proposed transportation program and request the use of funds from the revolving account for the pilot program. May Town Meeting will be approached to provide either 100 percent or 50 percent funding pending grant approval. If ultimately approved the new ride service public transportation program will go into effect in July 2020 when B-Line service is discontinued.


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