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Lyft proposes late-night service, suggests employers pitch in

The proposal suggests that such employers as hospitals pay a small fee to help get their late-working employees home.
lyft, rideshare
Lyft is now the official rideshare partner of the Massachusetts Brewers Guild. Photo: Flickr Creative Commons / nrkbeta

Another ride sharing app has thrown its hat into the ring of proposals to the MBTA for a late-night service partnership.

Brian Shortsleeve, the MBTA chief administrator and acting general manager, announced the proposal from Lyft in a report made public this week. It would cost the authority about $1.3 million a year.

In October, Bridj submitted a proposal to provide vehicles at night at a cost of $1.55 million annually.In comparison, operating costs for MBTA late night service through T trains and buses hit$14 million per year.

The MBTA stopped its late-night service last February because of low ridership and high cost, but that decision left many who need to get around between 1 and 5 a.m. without an affordable option.

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Shortly after that decision, Lyft and Uber announced a period of discounted rides for those late-night hours to provide some relief to the public. But now the ride-hailing service is offering a more permanent solution that would focus on helping Bostonians who work second- and third-shift.

“It’s a definite need, in particular for workers that need to get to their job and back” said Tyler George, general manager for Lyft in Boston. “We’re trying to target a proposal directly at those workers with the most need.”

To do that, Lyft proposes to collect fares for each trip from three sources: the rider, the MBTA, and the rider’s employer, who would be asked to pay a small, per-ride fee.

Some criticism was lobbed at late-night MBTA service at its start from those who perceived it as serving only partying college kids and those who want to drink at downtown bars.

While the MBTA said in a January presentation that the pilot program would benefit restaurant and entertainment industries, it was also meant to provide public transportation for nighttime workers.

“That’s the key to this proposal,” George said. “We really want the public money, which is in obviously very short supply, focused on the people who have the most need. I want that dollar to go to the worker at a hospital or airport and not to me, so I can get to wherever I’m trying to go.”

Under the proposal, participating organizations like hospitals and hospitality businesses would agree to pay a small fee per ride for their employees. The rider would pay $2.75 of the trip — equivalent to thecurrent price of a subway ride with cash or a CharlieTicket — and the MBTA would cover the rest.

“The majority of the subsidy will come from the MBTA,” George said. “But we did want organizations to have some skin in the game. It would ultimately be up to the MBTA to shape this proposal, but we were thinking organizations could commit something like $1 per ride.”

Employers would be incentivized to contribute because this would help their employees get to work on time and in a reliable fashion, George said.

Shortsleeve showed an example in his report with a hypothetical trip from Boston University to Dudley Square. The ride cost in total would be $7.10 and subtracting the rider’s “ticket” charge and the organization’s fee, the MBTA would subsidize $3.35 for the trip. A ride from Massachusetts General Hospital to Central Square, a $4.32 trip, would cost the MBTA only 57 cents.

The MBTA used these examples to calculate that on average, it would subsidize $3.50 per trip. If there are 1,000 rides a night for 365 nights of the year, it would cost the MBTA about $1.28 million for a year of late-night service.

George said that Lyft’s plan has zero upfront cost because it doesn’t need to build or use any infrastructure, such as running a bus line when it may only pick up a few people.

He also noted that this plan could work in conjunction with other proposals. Transit Matters, a nonprofit organization focusing on the transit in and around Boston, submitted a proposal for a Nightbus that would run between 1 and 5 a.m. on eight routes. But because those routes may not run close to all the workers that would need them, the Lyft plan could supplement the late-night service, filling those gaps.

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This wouldn’t be Lyft’s first partnership with the MBTA. In September, Lyft and Uber both teamed up for a paratransit pilot program with the RIDE, the authority’s service for disabled and elderly residents. Previously, riders had to pre-schedule trips through the RIDE, but the partnership allowed people to request a vehicle whenever they needed through their smartphones or a call-in option.

“I’ve talked personally to a lot of users and heard very positive reactions from folks used to using the RIDE,” George said of that pilot.

The transit authority and Gov. Charlie Baker’s office both called that partnership the “first of its kind." George said that Lyft’s late-night proposal is a pioneering idea, as well.

“To my knowledge, it’s the first proposal of its kind in the country, if not the world,” he said. “Lyft is very interested in making it work for employees, employers and the transit agency. If Massachusetts can make it work, it might be a model for other states as well.”

 
 
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