Nobody is taking free rides in Tarrytown

The response to Cap Metro’s August figures has appropriately been focused on bus ridership. That’s what matters and, thankfully, that’s what appears to be moving in the right direction (up).

There was at least one really, really embarrassing figure. I’m sure you can figure it out (hint: look for the red).

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What is Innovation Mobility? Well, from June of 2017 until June of 2018, that referred to “Pickup,” a pilot program that allowed people to get free rides anywhere in the Mueller, Windsor Park and Coronado Hills neighborhoods. Cap Metro described it thus: “Riders… request a trip from their pickup point at a time they want and to a destination of their choosing. Their trip will then be matched with other travelers heading to the same destination, and the Pickup vehicle will arrive within 15 minutes.”

Pickup, which shuttled people around in electric vans, proved pretty popular. It was used 410 times in June 2017, its first month of operation, and its use steadily climbed over the next 12 months. In May 2018, it was used 3,002 times.

However, Cap Metro said goodbye to Pickup at the end of May. It declared the pilot a remarkable success and said that it “has paved the way for expanding Capital Metro’s on-demand service starting in 2019.”

So Pickup is done for the time-being, and instead Cap Metro is conducting a ride-hailing pilot in Tarrytown. You can read all about it here, but the quick summary is that people in a one-mile square area can get free rides via RideAustin to or from two bus stops in the area.

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So far, not too many folks are taking Cap Metro up on the offer. RideAustin provided 14 free rides in July and 21 free rides in August.

To be clear, the Tarrytown pilot was completely different from Pickup. The latter took people anywhere they wanted within a relatively large area, while the former only takes you to or from bus stops in a very small area. I suppose the fact that a large percentage of Tarrytown residents would never be caught dead using public transit also plays a role, but it’s not the most important point to focus on.

When I thought about this pilot last month, I considered my own situation. I live a half-mile from my own bus stop. If I could get a free ride there, it might be something I would consider doing on a hot or rainy day. But I don’t think I’d bother getting a ride from the bus stop home … the wait will be about as long as simply walking home, and it’s not like the MetroRapid shelter is giving me much reason to stick around.

So has the Tarrytown pilot has been a disaster?!!? Not really. It’s not like Cap Metro spent a bunch of money on it. I don’t exactly know what Cap Metro’s payment deal was with RideAustin, but I assume that Cap Metro has simply reimbursed the struggling company for the few dozen free rides it provided. RideAustin may have even done it for free as it tries desperately to claw back the business that Uber & Lyft reclaimed when they ended their self-imposed exile last year.

As I wrote before, what I don’t understand is what Cap Metro would have done if the pilot had proven to be tremendously popular. Free, on-demand transportation does not seem like something that can be offered on a large-scale.


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