NY Daily News
Night-shift workers living in places with spotty overnight bus and subway service may get a new way home under a MTA proposal.
The agency on Tuesday announced plans to hire an outside company to provide a publicly subsidized on-demand car or van service for riders in places where “bus service is less frequent than subway service or is unavailable.”
Transit honchos intend to use the service in areas outside of Manhattan that are more than a half-mile from the nearest subway or train station, have “limited or no overnight bus service nearby.”
The proposal — which MTA officials note is required by the state law setting up congestion pricing in lower Manhattan — was offered to bidders in January. It appears to be targeted at app-based car service companies like Uber, Lyft and Via, which serve a combined 700,000 daily riders in New York City.
The program’s stated goal is to serve a growing number of people who work non-traditional hours, like medical professionals and service industry employees. It would give riders in the targeted areas subsidized car or van rides — and could be a boon for e-hail companies that have already cut into the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s ridership.
MTA officials also want riders to be able to pay for the late-night rides with OMNY, the agency’s new digital payment system.
“We are seeking to leverage new mobility technologies to enable more New Yorkers to benefit from the public transportation network during the overnight hours, and to enhance the experience of overnight subway customers in low-cost ways," said Mark Dowd, who in November was hired as the MTA’s chief innovation officer, a role created through a state-mandated reorganization of the agency.
The program is scheduled to launch as a temporary pilot in June.
Uber, Lyft and Via have in recent years partnered with other cities to fill their transit deserts.
Via in 2018 launched a program with Berlin’s public transit agency Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe to provide on-demand van rides in an effort to supplement the city’s bus, tram and train routes. Also in 2018, Lyft cut a deal with the Detroit transit officials to offer discounted car rides between midnight and 5 a.m. for riders using one of the city’s bus routes.
Bringing that model to New York may prove tough.
J.P. Patafio, the head of buses at Transport Workers Union Local 100, said transit bosses did not tell him about the idea to outsource transit services. He likened the pitch to unregulated dollar vans.
“They (the MTA) need to invest in more bus service, and if they want a different type of service they should have put it in the (Local 100) contract the board ratified last month,” Patafio said. “We’re certainly not allowing non-union companies to do our work.”
Some transit advocates wondered why the MTA is looking to pay to outsource its services when the agency is in the middle of a “revenue neutral” redesign of each borough’s bus network.
“Isn’t this what a bus is supposed to do?,” Tri-State Transportation Campaign executive director Nick Sifuentes asked. “Buses work well during off-peak hours because traffic is less of an impediment to service.
"That's the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don't work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital." - Noam Chomsky