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Marin County Transit Agencies Leverage Uber App, Expertise

Transit operators in Marin County, Calif., will be making their services available on the Uber app, giving ride-hailing users other transit options. The partnership hopes to increase first-mile and last-mile options.

by / June 30, 2020

Uber users in California will soon be able to open the app, call for a ride and an official public transit vehicle shows up to greet them.

In Marin County, Calif., transit operators have partnered with Uber to provide the software platform to support on-demand transit services, as well as a first-mile-last-mile program to connect riders to public transit.

The Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) and Marin Transit are contracting with the ride-share company in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) agreement to put the county’s public transit operations directly on the Uber app. The new Connect2Transit program begins July 1.

"What we’re doing is we’re leveraging the development expertise, and quite honestly, all the years of experience Uber has in building out a great platform to request rides. But we’re maintaining control, in terms of where it’s available, when it’s available,” explained Robert Betts, director of operations and planning at Marin Transit.

Marin Transit, like many transit agencies today, operates an on-demand service, where riders can request nearly door-to-door service, generally using small transit vehicles. This service will now be accessible through the Uber platform. However, Marin Transit will provide the rides, set the terms, prices and service zones, as well as ensure the rides are accessible for riders with physical or other limitations.

“Right now, if you wanted access to the service, you have to download a very specific app,” said Betts.

“And I think what we were seeing was, a rider wasn’t necessarily going to open that app and first check to see if our services are available before potentially going into one or two other apps,” he added.

Also part of the new agreement, TAM will be offering its program to support discounted shared rides to transit connections like Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) stations, bus stops and a Bay Area ferry terminal, via the Uber service.

Marin County, just north of San Francisco, is a feeder for workers commuting into the Bay Area. Marin has been home to pilot projects for the last two years which connect transit users with ride-hailing as part of an effort to close first-mile-last-mile gaps. Late last year, TAM and Marin Transit partnered on a procurement for a software that allows for combination of the programs on a single user interface and framework to allow for the expansion of both programs.

“Uber is providing the software, and we’re providing the mobility options,” Derek McGill, planning manager for the Transportation Authority of Marin, explained. “They’re just all integrated into the app, in this streamlined fashion. Which is really handy, since Uber already has a gigantic amount of users. There’s not a separate app that needs to be downloaded. It’s already existing on people’s phones.”

The migration of public transit services to a near-ubiquitous ride-hailing platform may be the most natural evolution for modern mobility, as transportation officials have aimed to offer any number of transportation offerings under one umbrella app to streamline the process.

"This is a historic first for Uber and Marin, as we leverage the technology and Uber App we’ve built to power billions of seamless Uber trips to power Marin Connect,” said David Reich, head of Uber Transit, in a statement.

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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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