Spotlight on TNC partnerships in Minnesota

Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) — like Lyft and Uber — have provided rides to millions of people all over the United States for the last several years. In Minnesota, three different partnerships with Lyft now allow even more people to get where they want and need to go.

Dakota County

Dakota County’s Transit Coordination Assistance Project (TCAP) forged a partnership with Lyft in March 2019 to reduce transportation barriers for older adults and residents with disabilities.

Dakota County Lyft partnership
Photo: Dakota County

The program began with 23 riders and grew very quickly. As of July 2021, more than 750 individuals were a part of the program, according to Dakota County transportation coordinator Robyn Bernardy.

The flexibility and on-demand nature of Lyft is part of what has made it so successful. Other transportation options are bound by areas of general services, limit days and hours of service, and require significant preplanning.

Dakota County riders take an average of 19 trips each month. “People talk about the normal places they go with our Lyft program — just regular, everyday things like the mall, to work, grocery shopping, and to friends’ houses,” Bernardy says. “Really basic things many of us take for granted are life-changing for others.”

Feedback has been so positive (81% of riders report that Lyft has reduced their transportation barriers) that Dakota County signed a new contract to allow for wheelchair-accessible vehicles to be a part of the Lyft platform.

The county also utilizes Lyft Concierge for jail releases and for individuals transitioning out of a shelter.

Washington County

Before the pandemic, Washington County residents with children in child protection received mental health services or participated in recovery services and frequently struggled to attend court hearings. County social workers would give them rides, but this would take precious time away from others in their caseloads.

In October 2019, Washington County partnered with Lyft to provide transportation. The pilot proved so popular it soon expanded to include intellectual and developmental disabilities, crisis response services, shelter, and workforce development staff.

“Social workers and passengers have reported significant satisfaction with the ease of setting up trips, the quality of the ride, and the relative spontaneity that Lyft affords,” says Sheila Holbrook-White, former mobility manager for Washington County.

In 2021, the county public health and environment department joined the program to connect residents with COVID testing and vaccination.

County staff has deployed Lyft for more than 1,300 trips. Most of the rides have been for medical treatment, followed by visitation between parents and children, and employment-related rides.

Between October 2019 and August 2021, social workers diverted 581 hours of what would have been driving time to yield $26,139 in value-added services to individuals, families, and the county.

Sheila Holbrook-White is no longer with Washington County. Barbara Bursack is now the Washington County mobility manager.

ConnectAbility of MN

ConnectAbility of MN, a St. Cloud-based nonprofit that provides services to people with disabilities and senior communities around Minnesota, recognizes the lack of transportation in rural areas across the state.

“We want to take the same concepts of Dakota County’s Lyft program and evolve them into something that will work in communities that have no drivers, no riders, no public transportation options, and no opportunity to break some of those barriers,” says Sheri Wegner, executive director of ConnectAbility of MN.

Currently, ConnectAbility of MN is working to create a network of drivers by introducing this opportunity to social service organizations and county case managers, and sharing it by word of mouth.

They provide videos on their website about rider safety and how to use Lyft. The videos are free to any organization across the state to use in their own community.

Wegner says because a lot of people in rural Minnesota don't have reliable internet, ConnectAbility of MN plans to partner with Lyft to offer their concierge service. This will allow them to put individual riders with individual drivers and schedule rides for up to seven days — all without needing online access or a smartphone.

“The whole purpose of this program is the transformational effect for people,” says Wegner. “On a farm, you might be 10 miles from town on a gravel road, and you are 100% isolated if you have no transportation. So, building this program in these small communities will be absolutely life-changing.”