BURLINGTON – The B-Line, the longtime Burlington Public Transit service, isn’t amassing the same ridership it did a decade ago, so the town is moving forward with a pilot program ride sharing option for the next year.
This past September, by a clear majority, Town Meeting passed a warrant article to reallocate $50,000 from the Burlington Transit Service Budget to fund the pilot program. At the most recent Board of Selectmen meeting, Department of Public Works (DPW) Director John Sanchez and Council on Aging (COA) Director Marge McDonald confirmed the state has agreed to match the $50,000 via a grant, much to the delight of town officials.
“That validates the program we are undertaking,” assured Town Administrator Paul Sagarino. “That said, this is a pilot program and the purpose of a pilot program is to work out the kinks in what we are trying to accomplish.”
As a result of the sinking ridership numbers and just one route now constituting the B-Line, continuing the transportation services it has provided residents for many years seems futile, at this point.
Town officials did confirm the B-Line will continue its one-route service through June 30, 2020, all while the ride sharing pilot program is in effect.
Sanchez and McDonald have worked diligently on finding the right course of action to pursue, and ended up with a modern strategy, perfect for the 21st century. After pursuing capital and operating grants, a federal operating grant has been accepted which will pay for ½ a year of the initiative the town wants to move forward with. The grant is expected to cover $75,000 to fully implement the ride sharing program in the future, in addition to the $75,000 the town would need to match, in order to cover the $150,000 cost of the program.
The initiative being pursued pertains to subsidizing rides on Uber, Lyft, and taxi services.
“Other towns are doing it,” declared McDonald, noting they worked with Bedford and Lexington town officials on this initiative. “It is the way of the future. People do not want MassTransit anymore. They want to take [their ride] whenever they feel like going, not when the state or community says so.”
The plan is to wait on an update from the federal government on the operating grant, while moving forward with a pilot program to “work out the kinks” before the initiative is fully implemented. Some of the remaining funds from the B-Line ($50,000) will be allocated for the pilot program, and the formal approval from Town Meeting was warranted in order to make the transportation subsidy happen.
The subsidy will provide financial assistance for individuals who are elderly, disabled, and income-eligible ($63,000 or less for annual income qualifies). The subsidized riders will pay $1 for any service, the additional $10 will be covered by the town, and anything over $11 will be covered by the rider. However, Sanchez detailed, “Most rides in Burlington are less than $11” so Burlington riders will rarely, if ever have to pay more than $1 if they get rides around town.
The $11 will cover the costs of any Uber, Lyft, or taxi service from a customer’s front door to any location in Burlington.
“It will help people who the B-Line has helped over the years,” professed Sanchez. “The [COA] will run the pilot program. Using ride share services will be better, providing point-to-point transportation, rather than just scheduled stops.”
Ride share services, such as Uber and Lyft, can provide rides 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, unlike the B-Line.
The Burlington Transit Committee unanimously approved the pilot program, and the Board of Selectmen were also firmly behind the initiative, but they did not have to vote on it.
“I think this program is going to work, but we do not know exactly how it is going to work, so the pilot program will be good for trial-and-error,” pointed out Selectman Chair Joseph Morandi.
Sanchez and McDonald agreed that the pilot will help “weed out” any unforeseen variables that arise.
The ride sharing program is expected to be cheaper than the B-Line, with the former checking in at around $10 per ride and the latter just over $14.
“We figure this will be able to provide a better service than we are currently providing,” Sanchez said to Town Meeting. “We will break even in terms of cost to the town. This warrant article is asking Town Meeting to use this $50,000, from the Burlington Transit System funds, due in fiscal year 2020, to do this pilot program for six months, starting in December/January and running through May/June. We want to see if it is something feasible for the town to do.”
Sanchez confirmed the initiative is out to bid right now, but the goal is to have the ride sharing pilot program up and running in January.
The Selectmen unanimously approved the subsidizes transportation pilot program policy.