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Laguna Beach, Calif., Launches Six-Month Uber Pilot as Bus Service Replacement

Rather than create a whole new transportation system, Laguna Beach went out to the market and found a service that has already proved its viability: Uber.

(TNS) -- Laguna Beach had a problem and the city did something unusual in government: It thought outside the box.

Facing declining ridership on the city’s bus service, the Register reported that “the council then voted to stop the bus service in North and South Laguna and reduce it in the afternoons in Top of the World, Arch Beach Heights and Bluebird Canyon.”

But there were seniors and disabled folks who still needed help getting around town. So, the city decided to call ridesharing service Uber.

“Passengers will get free rides for the first two months of the six-month pilot program, according to the staff report,” the Register reported. “Transportation will be available throughout town and up to 15 miles outside the city limits for those who need transportation to medical appointments at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo or other medical centers.”

After the first two months, riders will pay only 50 percent of the regular Uber cost.

The partnership marks the first time an American city and Uber have joined forces to get residents around. As other agencies, like the Orange County Transportation Authority, face similar issues with ridership on their bus systems, we hope this arrangement will be the start of something potentially revolutionary in public transportation.

Rather than create a whole new transportation system, like an inflexible fixed-route streetcar through Santa Ana, Laguna Beach went out to the market and found a service that has already proved its viability, and is looking to make it work for them.

And, for those worried about the safety of Uber, the Register reported that the “Uber drivers used in the pilot program will undergo a 10-year background check, which includes state DMV, drug records and state and federal criminal records, the staff report said.”

In the digital age, it is nice to see a government embracing an emerging technology. So-called “disrupters” like Uber and short-term rental service Airbnb can work for us, but only if we let them.

Other cities and government agencies should follow Laguna Beach’s pilot program closely and see if the market can provide a solution for them, too.

©2017 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.