Uber

Derby is currently working on a pilot program with Uber to expand public transit options for those in need of assistance. 

As part of its routine policy of updating priorities quarterly, the Derby City Council turned its focus to some new projects recently given strides made in some areas.

With action being taken to address the pandemic response, trash/recycling request, West End development plan and micromobility options, City Manager Kathy Sexton recommended those items be removed from the list during a presentation at the council’s July 27 meeting.

In their stead, work will shift to priorities like developing options for improved public transit. Regarding that, Sexton reported a pilot program is currently being worked out for Uber to provide potential solutions in Derby.

Exploring this pilot program with Uber, Sexton and assistant city manager Kiel Mangus noted the cost structure is intended to remain similar to that of the Derby Dash ($2 per each one-way ride), with the city subsidizing any additional costs Uber may charge per ride.

While Derby Dash is open to all citizens within the city limits, it was noted the pilot program with Uber would be targeted toward a more focused demographic – namely low-income individuals, senior citizens and those with disabilities who may have a more difficult time arranging for transportation within the city.

Currently, the Derby Dash operates from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday with rides offered on an on-demand basis. Knowing there are busy times when rides can’t be scheduled, Sexton and Mangus said this will help with that overflow while also helping determine if the pilot program may have future success.

“The issues we have is people do want to go places after 5, on the weekends, etc., and there’s times where we’re busy during the day,” Mangus said. “[Uber’s] using its platform to help support public transit agencies, and it’s interested in that with us, too, on different levels. For us, we were interested in seeing how we can possibly look at some sort of program where we can maybe extend our hours for those who need it and kind of see what kind of ridership we get.”

Uber presented at a meeting of the Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP) of South Central Kansas, setting the wheels of this pilot program with Derby in motion. Looking for different ways to get involved in public transportation (already working with systems like Bay Area Rapid Transit in California), Derby saw an opportunity within Uber’s mission to branch out.

Following a connecting communities study done four years ago, Mangus noted Derby has been looking for ways to partner in more regional transportation with Haysville, Mulvane, Wichita and other surrounding municipalities.

That is one way the pilot program may differ from the Derby Dash – as those vehicles currently only operate within the city limits. Working with Uber, the city may be able to offer affordable transportation options for individuals who work in Derby but live in Haysville or south Wichita, for example. Mangus noted setting the exact boundaries will require more research into Uber’s pricing structure.

Other options to expand public transit include purchasing a bus, but partnering with Uber on a pilot program allows the city to subsidize costs at a lower level initially.

“There’s a lot of expense for us to hire drivers, to buy buses, to pay for gas – gas isn’t cheap right now – so it’s a way to do it in a more affordable, learning way,” Mangus said.

Riders will be able to register with the city and then schedule rides through the Uber app or a dedicated phone line. Initially, Sexton suggested dedicating $5,000 to $10,000 to the pilot program to subsidize ride costs.

A number of details remain to be ironed out before the pilot program comes before the city council for official action, but Mangus expects it may start by late 2021/early 2022 if approved. Even with all the questions to be answered, Mangus is optimistic about the potential of the partnership with Uber.

“If it’s super popular and we run out in three months, there’s no more money. We’re going to have to re-evaluate at that point to see how did this work, what were the good and the bad,” Mangus said. “I hope we find that it’s a viable option in Derby for accessible transportation and last-mile transportation for those who need it.”

More immediately, the city council also added transition of the city manager to its list of priorities as well as long-term funding for Derby Fire and Derby Public Library.

Kelly Breckunitch is the managing editor for the Derby Informer. Contact him at kelly@derbyinformer.com for questions and news tips. 

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Managing Editor

Kelly Breckunitch is the managing editor for the Derby Informer. Contact him at kelly@derbyinformer.com for questions and news tips.