How does free ride-sharing work?

Back when Cap Metro was redesigning its bus routes, it got some pushback over the elimination of bus service on Exposition Blvd. The rich residents of Tarrytown probably couldn’t care less about losing a bus stop, but the people baby-sitting their kids might. Also, there are apparently a bunch of tech workers who work in the area. I don’t know for who(m).

Anyway, Cap Metro came up with a solution: Mobility Innovation Zones. Those were areas on the outskirts of town that probably didn’t have enough riders to justify regular bus service but that could be ripe for some kind of other public transportation. Ride-sharing was one of the vague ideas floated.

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The patches of green on the outskirts are the innovation zones.

Tarrytown is one of six Innovation Zones currently included on the Connections 2025 map, but I think it’s the only place where they’re actually going to roll out this ride-sharing scheme. Syeda Hasan from KUT explains:

In the Austin area, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority has partnered with the nonprofit RideAustin to launch a pilot program that provides service in what’s called the Exposition Area Innovation Zone.

Capital Metro says the area, which covers only about eight city blocks near Central Austin, is home to a large number of tech workers. When RideAustin users hail a ride from within the service area, they can go to and from two particular bus stops for free.

Neither RideAustin nor Capital Metro made anyone available for an interview, but Schwieterman said the program could encourage more people to take public transit.

“Offering free trips in the Exposition area, a very tightly defined area where there’s a lot of tech jobs … is a nice little pilot,” Schwieterman said. “The city can see how we can improve mobility in that area while putting some boundaries on this so it doesn’t become too expensive.”

This will be interesting. It’s addressing the “last mile” conundrum that keeps so many in Austin from using public transit, particularly when a half-mile or one-mile walk can mean a heat stroke. A bike makes that mile much quicker but no less sweaty.

I live in a similar situation. I live 0.6 miles from the bus stop (the 803) that takes me downtown. Assuming that I was feeling a little lazier or cared a little more about being presentable when I show up to cover our distinguished elected leaders, would I take a free ride to the bus stop? Sure, why not? That’d probably be pretty sweet.

Looking at the boundaries of the innovation zone, it looks like the furthest ride somebody could get would be about 1.3 miles. I don’t know much about this neighborhood to understand what kind of a constituency this service could have, whether from residents or employees. You’ve got to wonder how many people will request two-block rides just to be assholes.

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Here’s my question: What’s the next step if it proves extraordinarily popular? I have an inkling that it’s not going to be Cap Metro offering free rides to anybody who lives more than a half-mile from a bus stop.

At the very least, there’s the data.

Data from ride-sharing companies could be especially valuable in helping transit agencies better understand how people get around, he said. But for private companies, this information is often proprietary, and ride-sharing customers are not always open to having their data shared.

I think a safer and cheaper bet would be to strike a deal with a scooter provider to deploy a bunch of scooters in one of these innovation zones and set up some way for people to get free or discounted rides when going to or from the bus stop.

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