Dakota County and Washington County TCAPs update: Lyft ride-sharing program frees riders

Dakota County, MN

Dakota County TCAP launched its Lyft ride-sharing program in March 2019 with 23 riders. The program now has 1,100 riders and counting.

In 2022, building on its success, the program received an innovation grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services to help expand on-demand service to riders who use mobility devices. The grant provides financial incentives to attract drivers with wheelchair-accessible vehicles to the Lyft platform and, once on the platform, to keep them driving, said county transportation coordinator and TCAP mobility manager Robyn Bernardy.

“We want to have enough drivers and WAV [wheelchair-accessible vehicle] vehicles available to meet demand,” she said. “Right now, we have 33 people who need WAVs and are eligible, but we think there are more.”

Currently, Lyft subcontracts with Mobility for All for wheelchair-accessible services, which requires riders to call for rides rather than use the Lyft app. Lyft is working on adding the option for wheelchair-accessible vehicles to its platform.

“That change and increasing the number of drivers with WAV vehicles would help improve service to riders with wheelchairs,” Bernardy said.

The idea for Lyft dates to 2017, when lack of transportation lowered employment rates among those receiving human services. The Dakota County team saw the need for a ride-sharing option, and they chose Lyft as a provider. The county received DHS backing and a 2018 DHS innovation grant.

Dakota County Lyft statistics

The program requires participants to live in Dakota County, work with a case manager, qualify for a home and community-based service waiver, and have a smartphone as well as a Lyft account. Participants can use the Lyft app to request transportation, see the cost of rides and view the balance of their available funding.

“It’s very seamless on the rider side,” Bernardy said.

It’s also very popular with riders. In a rider survey, the county asked new participants how happy they were with their transportation options before Lyft. Fifteen percent said they were satisfied or extremely satisfied, and 85% of those surveyed responded that they were satisfied or extremely satisfied six months after using Lyft.

“It flipped,” Bernardy pointed out, “which is really fun to see.”

Survey participants also indicated Lyft reduced their dependence on family and friends for rides, reduced the stress of waiting for transportation, improved reliability and helped increase their flexibility in accommodating employer requests.

The county compares the cost of rides with other services, and Lyft proves economical.

“Right now, it’s less costly than those options,” Bernardy said, “and also gives people that independence and that choice.”

In Washington County, a Lyft partnership was encouraged by the TCAP collaborative structure and by Dakota County’s willingness to consult with other counties, said Barbara Bursack, community services and TCAP mobility manager for Washington County.

“Washington County has few public transportation options,” Bursack said. “It’s really filling an important need that couldn’t be filled by other means at this time.”

Users logged 61 Lyft rides in Washington County during the two-week period at the beginning of August.