South Bend, Ind., Mobility Pilot Expands After Successes

The Commuters Trust program, which blends transit, ride-hailing and carpooling into a suite of transportation options for commuters, is expanding after early successes building partnerships with local employers.

by / March 11, 2020
An aerial view of downtown South Bend, Ind. The city launched its Commuters Trust program, which blends transit, ride-hailing and car-pooling into a suite of transportation options for workers. Shutterstock/Jacob Boomsma

Whether taking the bus, tapping into Lyft, or carpooling, city officials in South Bend, Ind., want to help commuters get to work.

The city is expanding a pilot project it started last year to make getting to work easier. Commuters Trust is a multi-option approach to make complimentary bus passes, discounted Lyft rides or cash incentives for carpooling available to participating workers.

“The vision for this program is we’re working to take the stress out of the commutes,” said Aaron Steiner, program director for Commuters Trust, adding that lack of reliable, steady transportation can be a job barrier for many low-income residents. “The idea was, let’s partner with local employers, and set it up as a benefit sponsored, in part, by employers.”

South Bend was one of nine cities to win a $1 million Mayor’s Challenge grant, part of Bloomberg Philanthropies. It is now moving into Phase II of the three-year project. 

The six-month pilot program launched in September 2019 with about three employers affecting about 200 workers. In that iteration the city created a partnership with Lyft, along with the local bus system. By April 1, the city’s partnership with local employers will serve about 600 participants.

“We offered all of our local participants an unlimited bus pass, as well as a set of discounted Lyft rides,” said Steiner.

Commuters Trust continues the complimentary transit pass and discounted Lyft rides programs, and adds the carpooling option with Hytch, a Nashville, Tenn.-based startup.

The Lyft portion of the program offers rides to and from workplaces. Participants get two rides for $1 each, and eight rides for $5 each per month. These are designed for those workers needing a “backup or alternative” method of getting to work, said Steiner.

The partnership with Hytch will pay participants 50 cents per mile for carpool drivers, and 25 cents per mile for riders who are carpooling to and from work.

“We wanted to put some money behind it to create a real incentive for people to possibly go out of their way, on their way to or from work to give a co-worker a ride,” said Steiner.

For users, Hytch is a smartphone app which operates not unlike other ride-hailing or even social media apps, which gather up location and user data, but also incorporates a financial transaction management platform.

“If you provide a cash incentive to the driver and the passenger, then everybody has an incentive to participate, to contribute their data to the system, and to stay in it,” said Mark Cleveland, CEO and co-founder of Hytch.

“We do not match people with strangers,” Cleveland added. “We’ve found that corporate sponsors generally don’t want to be a part of matching their employees with strangers.”

Like the multitude of apps that collect user and location data, Hytch may also share that data with third parties, including government agencies, according to the company’s terms and conditions.

However, the company is clear in stating it does not, “nor will ever, sell ANY personal information of Hytch Users.”

Hytch also asks users to allow it to access their address book “to facilitate invitations and social interactions that you initiate through our Platform.” The Hytch privacy policy stresses the company does not download the data.

“We bring the technology, and the ability to capture and inspire participation, which our clients, who are employers in communities around the country, have decided that they want to get access to the most under-utilized asset in America, which is private vehicles,” said Cleveland. 

Skip Descant Staff Writer

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.

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