Fellows in the News

The sleepy East Bay suburbs of Newark, Union City, Castro Valley and Fremont may seem like an unlikely locale for the latest battleground between public transit operators and ride-booking services, such as Uber and Lyft.

But it’s here that AC Transit, which operates buses in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, is going bumper-to-bumper with the tech darlings, offering a competing service that blends on-demand rides with traditional bus routes. And, the agency says, it may just be working.

Ridership on AC Transit’s FLEX service, a pilot program the agency launched in July, has grown steadily since its inception and increased 33 percent since the start of the year, when AC Transit launched a more robust marketing campaign. The service allows passengers to book rides in advance to catch at the nearest bus stop, but won’t stop for riders waiting curbside. Instead, the FLEX buses, which are smaller than the traditional 40-footers and seat 12 passengers, take a more direct route based on who is on board. Riders can hop on the buses at BART stations without a reservation.

That speeds up travel times and allows the agency to run the shuttle-like buses every 30 minutes, rather than every 45 minutes or every hour, as the case had been prior to the launch of the pilot program.

“We’re providing a hybrid,” said John Urgo, a transportation planner for AC Transit. “It’s not Uber or Lyft … but it allows us to provide a more productive service.”

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