Today the city of Boise expanded its transportation system. The expansion is called Lyft, which may sound familiar. That’s because the city is actually using the private ride-hailing company.
Boise is partnering with Valley Regional Transit (VRT) and other government agencies to implement a pilot program that they believe will get more people to ride the public bus—after riding in a subsidized private car first.
A transit rider trying to get to one of 14 Boise bus stops can use a special code on the Lyft app and get up to $6 of their ride covered by taxpayers. The city has already devoted $100,000 to the program, matched by another $100,000 from VRT. In 2019, the agencies’ goal is to provide 33,000 rides via Lyft, to bus stops.
This new program perfectly displays one of the ironies to how government relates to the private sector: Boise and VRT are using the private market to complete a service they are inefficient at.
Looking at the basics of this service, it is obvious how the city and VRT will continue to be inefficient, even with this pilot program: The program can easily be abused.
Because the only requirement for this program is that the Lyft ride has to be to a bus stop, anyone who works near a stop could get a discounted ride to work. Plus, a Boisean could get a really cheap ride to the mall, because there is a bus stop right next to it. In fact, the 14 bus stops that are supported by this program are near major employers like Hewlett Packard, grocery stores like Albertsons, and many restaurants, apartments, and workplaces.
Any Boisean could take a Lyft to a bus stop and walk the remaining distance to their final destination, without ever entering a bus.
Instead of experimenting with taxpayer dollars for this program that is ripe for abuse, the city should simply reduce barriers for providing transportation services in the private market. These private transportation services could easily aide the last leg of a passenger’s journey in the exact way that this Lyft program is designed to. One shining example: The private e-scooters scattered throughout the city.