United Way's subsidized ride program pilot ends sooner than expected

·3 min read

Jun. 20—The United Way of Frederick County on Monday concluded the pilot version of Ride United, a subsidized program to help low-income people with transportation. Organizers will study the results for three months before deciding how to keep the program going.

Since the pilot launched last October, the United Way has provided more than 3,700 free or reduced-fare one-way rides for asset-limited and income constrained but employed (ALICE) households. Ride United provides some Lyft riders up to $25 in credit per one-way ride.

The pilot program was scheduled to end in July, but users claimed the Lyft ride credits more quickly than anticipated, Ken Oldham, president and CEO of the United Way of Frederick County, said in a phone interview Monday.

Oldham said the organization tracked as many as 20 data points for each ride, including demographic information about the user, the time of the trip and the reason for the request.

For the next phase of the program, the United Way will study data gathered during the pilot phase to determine areas of the county where rides were frequently requested and the most common reasons that people needed rides.

"We're looking forward to taking a deep dive into the data so that we can more thoroughly understand the transportation needs of ALICE families in Frederick County," Veronica Henry, manager of community impact and grants for the United Way of Frederick County, said in a news release Thursday.

The end of the Ride United pilot is a sign of success and demand for the program, Oldham said. When the United Way launched the pilot, one of its goals was to use up all available ride credits.

Ride United will remain available to riders from more than a dozen local nonprofit organizations that are partners in the program. It will also be available through 211 Maryland to military veterans and active service members, and to people seeking rides to vaccine and testing appointments or to local libraries.

Partner organizations, though, are granted a finite number of Lyft ride credits through Ride United. It is not yet clear how many credits the organizations will receive, Oldham said. The number will depend on funding United Way can secure and how many people need reduced-fare rides.

"We don't know what the demand for these rides is going to be, even through this assessment period," Oldham said.

The United Way spent more than $75,000 from United Way Worldwide, headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia.

The organization has applied for additional funding from United Way Worldwide to purchase more Lyft ride credits. But Oldham said Monday that his organization had not heard whether the request would be granted.

The United Way will fund rides during the assessment period with a $50,000 grant from the county's $50 million allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act, which Congress passed to assist state and local governments in their long-term pandemic recovery efforts.

The local nonprofit Good Works Frederick has partnered with the United Way to expand the program. Beginning in January, Good Works Frederick will send volunteer drivers to reach low-income families and individuals in rural areas of the county.

The nonprofit will provide a base of volunteer drivers who will focus on ride requests around Brunswick and Knoxville, and around Emmitsburg and Thurmont — areas that lack enough affordable transportation options for low-income families and individuals.

Follow Jack Hogan on Twitter: @jckhogan