Via and Ben Franklin Transit (BFT) have launched a new on-demand transit service in West Pasco, Wash., starting with support for essential travel needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The service—called BFT CONNECT—will be powered by Via, the company that provides digital infrastructure to power public mobility in cities across the world, under a contract approved by the BFT Board of Directors and signed earlier this year.
The service was originally scheduled to launch in early April as a first-and-last mile service that would extend access to affordable, efficient and convenient public transit, and has been rapidly transformed to support residents and essential workers during the current pandemic.
BFT CONNECT will allow riders within active service zones to request a ride directly through the Via mobile app. Via’s technology directs passengers to a nearby corner for pickup, allowing for quick and efficient trips to or from designated transit connections within the same zone.
Under normal operations, transit connections will include major bus stops and transit centers. However, as an added service during ongoing emergency response in the community, select essential service locations including pharmacies, grocery stores and health clinics will be included as transit connections with front door drop-off and pickup.
In the Via app, customers can see, in real time, their available trip options, how far away their driver is and estimated time of arrival at their destination. Customers without smartphones will be able to call in to request rides and receive text updates as appropriate. During the state of emergency, no fares will be collected for this service in accordance with BFT’s ongoing safety measures. Once normal fare collection resumes, fares will be collected for BFT CONNECT rides through the Via app, cash or BFT tickets and passes.
Under current emergency operating conditions, only one passenger will be allowed in each vehicle per trip, though the service is intended to and will eventually be a shared ride service, with Via’s algorithms allowing multiple riders to share a vehicle. At launch, a second passenger will be allowed only as a companion traveling to and from the same destinations, and riders must sit in the back row of the vehicle to maintain proper social distancing from the driver.
“We have been planning for many months to introduce this exciting new on-demand option in our service area,” said BFT General Manager Gloria Boyce. “And though we initially delayed it due to the pandemic declaration, we have realized bringing it online now represents a value-added community service during this time of emergency and hardship for so many. It will allow us to help better meet the mobility needs of our riders and community at this critical time, give us flexibility to adapt to changes in staffing availability at BFT and fill service gaps as they arise.”
For Via’s part, the company says it is pleased to partner with the BFT team to bring a flexible approach to solving transit needs in the community.
“We are proud to work with BFT to rapidly introduce on-demand public transit to support their community with essential travel needs at this critical time,” said Via CEO and Co-founder Daniel Ramot. “Via’s technology provides a flexible mobility solution that currently enables dozens of partners around the globe to transform existing transit infrastructure swiftly and efficiently when it is needed most in emergency situations, and the launch of BFT CONNECT represents an opportunity for innovation-forward cities and transit agencies to follow.”
West Pasco will be the only BFT CONNECT service zone to launch due to bus route reductions implemented last week in the area to address staffing availability and temporarily realign service to essential locations. The remaining five planned BFT CONNECT zones will be active by the end of May. Details about the service, including how it will work during and after the state of emergency, are available on BFT’s website. This page will be updated as new zones are announced and/or emergency operating conditions change.