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Kansas City, Mo., Launches Uber-Style On-Demand Shuttle Service

In this one-year pilot program, city residents can use a smartphone-connected network of 10 passenger vans that will give them access to more work opportunities.

Somewhere between Uber and public bus systems, a company called Bridj spans the gap. And on Feb. 11, Ford announced a unique partnership with the bus ride-sharing venture and the Kansas City, Mo., Area Transportation Authority that intends to make urban travel easier for those who don’t drive.

Through a one-year pilot program, Kansas City residents will gain access to a smartphone-connected network of 10 passenger vans that the city hopes will give people access to more work opportunities.

Public transit is the missing link in a city’s workforce development, said Bridj CEO Matt George, whose claim is backed up by a 2011 Brookings Institute Study, which found that the average American city dweller can only reach about 30 percent of the jobs in their region via public transit in less than 90 minutes.

“The problem that’s being solved for is that as we’ve developed a car-focused city, a lot of folks who can’t afford cars or choose not to use cars have been left out of that mobility equation,” George said. “So the purpose here is really giving more mobility to even more people using mass transit.”

For $1.50 a ride, anyone can use the Bridj smartphone app to summon a ride in a 14-passenger Ford Transit, with average wait times between five and 10 minutes, George said. The company also operates in Boston and Washington, D.C., but Kansas City is the first government to coordinate with the service.

“For our users in those cities, we’ve been able to cut intracity commute times by up to 60 percent,” George said. “So in addition to being an alternate option to provide mass transportation, it’s a tremendous value add to the community, who might look at using mass transit for the first time because it’s quick, easy, efficient and comfortable.”

People who don’t own smartphones are out of luck for now, but George said the city is also examining the option of installing Bridj kiosks around key neighborhoods as an alternative to the app.

“I think the Kansas City partnership really is less about the transit," he said, "but more about what governments can do when they think outside the box to solve real concerns for their citizens and bring in multi-stakeholder groups like technology companies like us or big companies like Ford to be able to solve real problems in a way that’s never been attempted before."

Though a partnership of this type is new for Bridj and Kansas City, Ford has tinkered with the concept before. In December, Ford announced a pilot program called the Dynamic Shuttle service, which offers its employees similar on-demand ride sharing around its Dearborn, Mich., campus, a service that Ford says it will continue to maintain.

Kansas City officials were unavailable for comment by press time, and a Ford spokesperson explained that the company's involvement in this new partnership stems from tradition.

“Ford has always been about making people’s lives better and now, in some cities around the world, traffic cannot move freely, which affects the economy, environment, health and safety of people.”

Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.

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