The city of Aspen is proposing to pay Lyft up to $800,000 to deliver a wide range of mobility platforms during a three-month experiment next summer.
A memo released Friday details a contract up for approval at Monday’s Aspen City Council meeting. The city announced on Tuesday that it is partnering with Lyft for the June-through-Labor Day Shift mobility lab program, an effort to get up to 800 cars off the road that is expected to total roughly $3.25 million in city spending over three years and has been in the works since 2017.
The contract requires the city to pay Lyft upfront for “micro transit” shuttles that will run during peak weekday morning and afternoon hours from the Brush Creek intercept lot direct to destinations around town that are not on the Highway 82 bus line. The final price is still in the works but is not to exceed $375,000. Lyft will contract with unspecified local companies to provide at least eight vehicles, which will be able to carry tools, gear and dogs. The shuttles will be free to the rider and can use the bus lane to beat traffic. Specific destinations are to be determined based on rider demand, but possibilities include the Aspen Meadows campus, Aspen Valley Hospital and Aspen Highlands. Rides will be booked via the Lyft app.
Drivers working directly for Lyft will provide on-demand and ride sharing services that the city will subsidize at a rate that is still to be determined. The total cost of this service combined with the micro transit fleet is not to exceed $800,000, based on the contract negotiated by city staff and Lyft.
The concept blends traditional app-based ride-hailing services that have become the norm in larger cities thanks to Lyft and Uber with carpooling.
“Users will be able to book a ride using the mobile app, and the app will create routes to accommodate multiple parties in one vehicle,” says the memo whose authors include assistant city manager Barry Crook, climate action manager Ashley Perl, parking director Mitch Osur and transportation director John Krueger. “The app will not always be successful in creating a pooled route and will not do so at the expense of adding significant wait times. This service will allow Aspen to understand if the rural nature of this community lends itself to more carpooling as a growing transportation option.”
Perl said that Lyft’s app is among industry leaders in combining trips, so more riders are shared.
“No one likes the one [passenger], one vehicle model,” Perl said, describing it as “not in alignment with our values.”
“The ability to make a traditional ride-hail ride into a shared ride” is one of the main aspects of the Shift program and the Lyft partnership, she said.
Users of the service will pay a fee per ride based on Lyft’s existing fare structure. The city will subsidize a portion of each ride, the memo says. Perl clarified that Lyft will give the city a discount on the amount it bills per ride when trips are successfully combined. The city will receive a bill each month based on usage.
The subsidy rates, operating hours and service area boundaries will be determined no later than March 1, the memo says. The service area is not expected to extend beyond the intercept lot, but may include Red Mountain, east Aspen and the Castle and Maroon creek valleys.
“We believe that is what the community has been asking for,” Perl said, noting outreach efforts to date.
Lyft, which offers limited ride hailing in Aspen currently, “has committed to doing a large driver recruitment and training effort,” Perl said. “They are putting a lot of their own money and time into ensuring a high level of service.” The city is hoping Lyft will be able to commit to an average wait time of no more than 10 minutes per ride.
Lyft will also provide dockless e-bikes and electric scooters, which will cost the city nothing, but the rider will pay $1 to unlock and 15 cents per minute of use. This kind of dockless technology has become both loved and hated in larger cities where its popularity has exploded. Aspen aims to keep a tight lid on where the dockless bikes and scooters can be parked and the extent of their service areas.
Better than spending $5 million
As part of the contract, Lyft will provide, at no additional cost, marketing services and data it collects, including anonymous pick up and drop off information by time window, as well as trip dates, durations and distance, customer satisfaction data and passenger loads.
The city announced the mobility lab concept in summer 2017, aiming to have it off the ground by summer 2018. However, the concept was not sufficiently refined to determine programming and funding in time for last summer, so the lab was delayed until 2019.
Initial cost estimates for the lab exceeded $5 million. That has been pared down and is now expected to reach around $3.25 million in city expenses over three years. Other costs of Shift include improvements to the intercept lot such as bathrooms, tables and potential coffee and food service; Pitkin County is expected to review the city’s plans for the county-managed lot early in 2019.
The city will also expand its existing contract with RFTA to provide more bus service between Rubey Park and the intercept lot next summer.
Shift also includes a rewards component for users. The Miles mobile app will track users’ commuting patterns and awards points, weighted toward alternative transportation methods, that can be redeemed at local and national businesses.
Overall project management, data analysis and outreach costs for the lab are each in the six figures. The city is in the process of hiring an outside firm to run awareness and outreach programs in the lead up to and through the duration of the summer experiment.
Perl said city officials are excited to partner with Lyft, particularly because the company has a well established, pre-existing app that will engage both the local community, as well as tourists and visitors. Many visiting Aspen from more urban settings already have the Lyft app. When such people land in Aspen, it’s possible they will receive a push notification alerting them to Shift offerings. They could even be offered a free e-bike ride if they use RFTA for their initial trip into town, Perl said.
She added that the city considered designing its own app at the outset of the mobility lab planning efforts, but the estimated cost was around $500,000.
“In-kind services including the mobile app and outreach add significant value to the overall project,” the memo says. “In addition to receiving a mobile app and outreach in-kind, the Lyft partnership is unique in that it allows visitors and tourists to engage in Shift, which was previously not thought possible.”
Local providers may fill gaps
High Mountain Taxi owner Todd Gardner has blasted the Shift effort as a taxpayer-funded encroachment on his business. However, Perl said High Mountain or other local transit providers may yet participate in the lab in some fashion.
Perl explained that a meeting city officials held on Tuesday with local transportation providers, including High Mountain Taxi, was intended to outline the expected program with Lyft and identify gaps that local providers could fill.
“There were a number of people in the room that said we are interested in providing” a specialty service in conjunction with the mobility lab, Perl said.
Those potentially include subsidized late-night rides for restaurant and bar workers who have no transit options after 2 a.m., Perl said.
There is expected to be some leftover budget authority within the $3.25 million in estimated spending to develop complementary services that would fill gaps left by the larger Shift program.
“We are reserving budget to have further conversations,” Perl said. “Stay tuned because Shift is constantly evolving.”