Jon Cartu Declare: Orange County’s Outsourcing of Public Transit to Lyft Nearl - Jonathan Cartu - Moving & Transportation Services
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Jon Cartu Declare: Orange County’s Outsourcing of Public Transit to Lyft Nearl

Orange County’s Outsourcing of Public Transit to Lyft Nearl

Jon Cartu Declare: Orange County’s Outsourcing of Public Transit to Lyft Nearl

What seemed to be a solution among Orange County transportation officials four years ago — to slash underutilized public bus service in San Clemente and replace it with private rideshare app services like Lyft — nearly left some people stranded last week.

In 2016, the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) tried to balance the elimination of two bus routes with low ridership in the city while still ensuring that the residents depending on them had other mobility options. 

The idea that year — posed by San Clemente officials in response to the cutbacks — was to subsidize Lyft for its services around town so residents who relied on the dropped bus routes could instead hail a driver through an app on their phone.

The OCTA-funded program has provided some source of mobility for the city’s transit-dependent residents ever since.

Then it almost fell apart.

On Aug. 20, Lyft threatened the total suspension of its operations in California amid a legal battle with the state over a new law that reclassifies the company’s drivers as employees, rather than “gig” contractors. 

Becoming employees would entitle drivers under Lyft and Uber (another rideshare app) to things like sick pay and overtime but raise costs on the companies’ end.

“There was a chance that the city was going to have to temporarily shut down the program if Lyft suspended its services in California later today,” said Jonathan Knetchel, a management analyst at San Clemente’s Public Works Department, on Aug. 20 in an emailed response to Voice of OC questions. 

Even during a coronavirus public health crisis, Knetchel said the Lyft program saw 2,500 rides per month. Pre-pandemic, ridership was about 6,000 a month.

For public transportation advocates like Santa Ana Active Streets Coalition member Peter Garcia, it was just one consequence of transit agencies outsourcing their services.

“An issue with transit agencies substituting traditional fixed route bus service with Lyft and Uber is, we don’t know how long these companies are going to keep going,” Garcia said, adding the shakiness of private sector operations would affect not only the transit agencies depending on them, “but also the passengers depending on them.”

The shutdown was averted Aug. 20 when Lyft won a stay on a court injunction in the face of state prosecutors’ lawsuit against the company alleging it’s now in violation of AB 5, the new employee reclassification law, which took effect in January. 


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