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Introducing the Real Time Bus Information.

PSTA invites you to experience Real Time Bus Information. The system works with GPS technology and allows PSTA to pinpoint each vehicles exact location at all times. This means we can provide reliable, real-time departure information to passengers.





Real Time Bus Information on Mobile Phone

In this installment of Deep Drive, we’ll explore an emerging new aspect of public transit: partnerships with Transit Network Companies, also known as TNCs. If you’ve ever taken an Uber or Lyft ride, you’ve used a TNC before!


TNCs have become a common part of daily life now, whether for vacations, emergencies, special occasions, or to get to work or school. Some people use them for the occasional ride, and some people use them every single day.


In many ways, TNCs take the best parts of the common taxi and give the rider even more control and choice over how and when their ride occurs. In hindsight, it was maybe only a matter of time before transit agencies started seeking out relationships with these companies to expand their service areas.

Transit Network Company Basics

Transit Network Companies, also sometimes called ride-hailing services, truly began in 2009. While ride-sharing options started as early as the 1970s with the push for people to carpool and taxis had long been the gold standard for quick rides, the modern-day ride-hailing we all know and love would be established by Uber.


Uber would be the first to combine the concept of ride-hailing with a mobile app, allowing users to request on-demand rides directly from private drivers under contract with a TNC. Instead of calling a taxi company or waiting on the street in hopes one would pass by, riders could get a ride from their exact location with just a few taps on their phone. 

Photo taken over the shoulder of an Uber or Lyft driver driving under an overpass

While Uber started as a professional black luxury car service with rates much higher than a taxi, the service would soon expand to all riders and offered rates that were highly competitive with taxi companies of the time.


Soon enough, companies like Lyft and Sidecar developed their own ride-hailing services with similar features. And with the runaway success of these services, the landscape of on-demand transit was quickly shifting. TNCs have certainly not been without their controversies, but there was no question this burgeoning service could benefit local transit agencies and PSTA soon jumped at the opportunity to integrate TNCs into its service.

A Partnership Begins

After failing to pass the 2014 Greenlight Pinellas referendum, which would increase funding by changing PSTA’s source from property tax to sales tax, PSTA faced a new challenge. How could PSTA improve its services without proper funding? The solution PSTA staff offered to the Board of Directors was an extremely innovative one—partner with TNCs like Uber and Lyft to provide subsidized rides to or from approved bus stops beyond walking distance for riders. 


PSTA would be the very first in the country—possibly the world—to develop and execute this never-before-seen type of partnership. This program would become what we know today as Direct Connect, and funding would be provided by discontinuing low-performing routes.


With the Board's support for such an innovative idea, PSTA began contacting Uber and Lyft in 2015 to begin working out the details of the program. Although TNCs had been around for a few years, PSTA was in uncharted territory. Companies like Uber and Lyft were still new and lacked established departments for transit partnerships. Although some transit agencies had already set up programs for ride discounts with TNCs, none had created formal partnerships yet. 


Uber was the first to respond, thus beginning talks to hammer out the details of how such a partnership would work. By 2016, pilot programs for Direct Connect would begin, with Uber and United Taxi as the first TNC partners. And with its launch, the very landscape of public transit and TNCs was about to change.

Direct Connect

Direct Connect first launched on February 22nd, 2016, by partnering with Uber and United Taxi Service to provide subsidized trips to specific bus stops. This provided essential first- and last-mile options for riders who were beyond walking distance from a stop. At the time, the average Uber trip was $6, so the program initially provided a subsidized amount of $3 per ride.


Between February and July 2016, the program conducted its Phase I pilot program in Pinellas Park, an area affected by changes to the low-performing Pinellas Park Circulator (444) route. The East Lake Neighborhood would also be included in the pilot; however, it would only use United Taxi Services, not Uber.

Photo of a middle aged man driving for Uber or Lyft with a passenger in the back seat of the car.

Although the first pilot’s results were not necessarily earth-shattering due to its small area and lack of knowledge about the program, results were promising enough that the PSTA Board formally extended and expanded the pilot through fiscal year 2017. Phase II would begin in February of 2017 and would see the service area expanded with six new stops, as well as the subsidized amount for each ride raised to $5 per ride. This next phase would also see the addition of Wheelchair Transport as a service provider under Direct Connect. 


Phase II of the program would see program usage on the rise, cementing the program's place as a permanent fixture in PSTA’s services. Lyft would eventually join the roster of Direct Connect service providers, and more locations would be added to the list of eligible stops.

Mobility-on-Demand (MOD)

With the increasing success of the Direct Connect pilot programs, there was a clear opportunity to offer the service to PSTA’s paratransit riders who qualified for PSTA Access. Providing subsidized, on-demand service through TNCs for individuals with disabilities would provide them with more freedom and control over how they get around. However, finding funding would be a challenge to develop such a robust program. 


Enter the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Mobility on Demand (MOD) Sandbox Program.


According to the FTA, the Mobility on Demand Sandbox Program “connects people to their communities, mitigates socio-economic disparities, advances racial equity, and promotes affordable access to opportunity.” Each agency that applied would submit its idea, and the FTA would choose the best ones to fund. With their program outlined and fingers crossed, PSTA submitted their idea and hoped for the best.


And PSTA would be successful! 


In 2016, PSTA was awarded $500,000 through the Sandbox Grant to develop what would become the agency’s Mobility-on-Demand (MOD) program. MOD would allow any Access paratransit customer to call PSTA and book an on-demand ride through Uber, Lyft, United Taxi, or Wheelchair Transport. 

A hard of seeing man being guided into a PSTA Access paratransit car.

Since its launch, MOD has been wildly successful. In fact, 60% of all Access rides are now taken on MOD. While the reserved Access bus rides are still available for planned outings like doctor’s appointments and the like, MOD provides more freedom for last-minute or unplanned outings. MOD also allows riders to track their rides dispatched through Uber or Lyft. Once an MOD ride is booked, the rider receives a text containing a link they can tap to view their driver’s location through the Uber or Lyft app.


As we discussed in our Deep Drive: All About PSTA Access, MOD does come with a few drawbacks, such as Uber and Lyft drivers not having the same special training as Access bus operators. However, for many, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. MOD allows riders with disabilities to utilize the same services everyone else does, creating a more equitable option for a population that often faces discrimination or apathy. An MOD ride looks exactly the same as any other ride using Uber or Lyft.


PSTA wasn’t the first transit agency to integrate TNCs into paratransit services—that honor likely goes to Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) in Boston with their on-demand pilot for RIDE paratransit customers. However, PSTA has positioned itself as a leader in modern paratransit services. PSTA’s MOD program is especially unique in that it does not cap or restrict the number of rides an Access customer can make, allowing them to take total control of their transportation at an affordable cost. 

TD Late Shift

As Direct Connect and Mobility-on-Demand were being developed, PSTA staff saw another opportunity to help riders, especially those who qualified for the Transportation Disadvantaged (TD) program. The TD program is a state-funded program that provides reduced-cost transportation throughout Pinellas County to residents who qualify through an application process.


But what about TD riders who needed a ride to or from work outside of normal bus service hours? 


In August 2016, PSTA launched TD Late Shift, a program that provides subsidized Uber, Lyft, United Taxi, or Wheelchair Transport rides to TD-qualified riders whose jobs begin or end between 10 pm and 6 am on any day of the week. Such rides are dispatched similarly to Mobility-on-Demand rides, either by calling PSTA or using the PSTA Access app.

The Future of TNCs in Transit

Since 2015, PSTA’s partnership with TNCs has changed the way we support riders who face daily challenges when accessing public transit. Whether someone lives far beyond walking distance from a bus stop, has disabilities that make riding the bus difficult, or faces financial challenges while working the night shift, PSTA has pushed the boundaries of what’s possible to aid riders of all walks of life. 

An Uber or Lyft passenger sitting in the backseat of a car.

Despite being one of the most underfunded agencies in the country, PSTA has worked hard to do more with less through efficient spending and, most of all, cutting-edge innovation. These days, many transit agencies around the country have similar partnerships with TNCs, and PSTA has proudly been at the forefront of those previously uncharted waters.


As technology improves and the younger generation continues to embrace public transit, TNC-partnered programs like Direct Connect, Mobility-on-Demand, and TD Late Shift are likely to grow in scope and reliability.