PSTA approves contracts for mobility on demand programs

PSTA’s Sandbox Project is one of the agencies’ mobility on demand programs. The Sandbox Project allows disabled residents to get same-day Demand Response Transportation services.

ST. PETERSBURG – Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority Board members gave unanimous approval Dec. 5 to contracts and contract amendments for a variety of mobility on demand programs.

These programs include Transportation Disadvantaged Late Shift, Mobility on Demand Sandbox, Direct Connect and new a program called Healthy Hop in Tarpon Springs.

Transportation Disadvantaged Program is state-funded and provides reduced cost transportation to low-income residents who are unable to get a ride for “life-sustaining” trips, such as medical, grocery, work, job-related training, education or other “vital services.”

Through this program, qualified residents can receive reduced-cost bus passes and door-to-door service.

The late shift component provides on demand door-to-door service for trips to and from work that occur outside fixed bus route service hours (10 p.m.-6 a.m.) to individuals who qualify for the Transportation Disadvantaged Program.

Currently the TD Late Shift program has 135 active users. The users pay $20 for a TD bus pass and 25 late shift trips.

Contract amendments with Uber, United Taxi and Care Ride were approved that extend current contracts for the late shift program through June 30, 2019, when the Mobility Enhancement Grant expires.

The Direct Connect Program provides first and last mile transportation that allows PSTA bus riders a discount to get to locations not served by a bus route. Approval was given to a contract increase among all providers of the service – Uber, Lyft, United Taxi and Wheelchair Transport – to $600,000 over a three-year term. The cost will be approximately $200,000 a year subject to approval with each annual budget.

PSTA will continue to pay the first $5 for any Direct Connect qualifying ride on Uber. The program has increased in use recently due to changes that allow more flexibility for riders. Senior Planner Bonnie Epstein said staff expects that demand and popularity of the program will continue to increase. Average monthly expenses are estimated at $20,000-$25,000.

PSTA and the city of Tarpon Springs launched the new Health Hop program Dec. 3. The city-sponsored program provides transportation for low-income seniors that need to get to medical appointments. Initial sponsorship of $20,000 comes from Florida Hospital Pinellas (soon to be Advent Health).

Qualified low-income senior citizens age 65 or older who live in Tarpon Springs can receive two round trip or four one-way rides to and from medical appointments, pharmacies and grocery stores. The free rides will be provided by Lyft, United Taxi, Care Ride and Liberty Wheelchair.

The Sandbox Project allows riders to get same day Demand Response Transportation services instead of having to schedule trips in advance. DART is designed for people who because of their disability cannot safety and independently use the bus. Trips are dispatched by PSTA and multiple service providers help keep wait times low.

For more information on the mobility on demand programs, call the InfoLine at 727-540-1900.

In other business, the Board:

• Unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with Hillsborough Area Regional Transit to collaborate when possible in areas including procurement, staffing and other areas that would reduce redundancies, increase efficiencies and save money.

• Unanimously agreed with the Nominating Committee’s recommendation to retain Janet Long as PSTA chair for another year. Joe Barkley will serve as vice-chair and Pat Gerard as secretary/treasurer.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.