9 Reasons Why Partnering with Rideshare Alternatives May Not Be Right for Public Transit

By October 14, 2020

Rideshare. It’s all the rage. 

And why not? It’s simple, right? You need a ride. You log into an app. Share a little info and minutes later a vehicle shows up and you’re on your way. Who wants to wait for a shared bus or van when you can hail your own personal vehicle?

And for people who use paratransit and  non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) services, it might seem like a great fit. No additional waiting. No delays. No worries if your plans change.

But in reality, while seemingly convenient, a rideshare option in many cases fails to meet most paratransit customers’ needs, especially if the rider is sick, requires transportation assistance or has ambulatory issues. 

While some headlines tout success decreasing wait times and saving money, what does moving away from specialized services and into a global transportation company hub actually mean for your business?

We’ll take a closer look at reasons why modern rideshare and transportation network companies (TNC) fall short when serving public agencies, but first, a little background.

Uber, Lyft Drive Into NEMT

Uber, one of the industry’s best-known rideshare companies entered into the NEMT arena in 2016 when it began partnering with a digital platform focused on healthcare-related transportation requests.

Lyft entered into the NEMT space that same year, and the following year created a partnership with LogistiCare, the largest NEMT management service in the U.S.

In 2018, Uber stepped up its push into the NEMT market with the creation of UberHealth, an app that helps healthcare providers hail rides for patients. Recently, Uber acquired an NEMT-related company, Routematch, a tech-focused company that connects agencies to riders.

So if you’re an NEMT company and you’re seeing the headlines about Uber and Lyft making gains in the market, you may be wondering if now is the time to make a switch yourself.

Here are 9 reasons why a rideshare company might not be the best fit for your public transit company needs:

1. Your Rides Are Your Business

One of the ways rideshare companies help paratransit and NEMT service providers save money is by decreasing the demand for company-owned fleets.

By switching to a rideshare company, you no longer have to purchase your own vehicles and maintain them for service. That sounds like a great cost savings, right?

Well, in theory, but if you’re not in control of your fleet, how do you know you can count on the reliability and safety of your passengers? By working with a third-party, you lose that extra step of accountability knowing that every vehicle your riders get in meets your company’s quality and safety standards.

And what about your drivers? Your team members are what help you build a successful company. When you maintain your own fleet and hire your own drivers, you’re able to ensure your drivers meet all of your company standards, that they adhere to your brand, messaging, and quality controls. 

When you hand that off to a third-party, you’re at their mercy. What happens if your riders have a bad experience? What if they share that bad experience across social media? If your riders’ experiences are at the heart of your company success, are you handing off your brand and reputation to a third-party? At what cost?

If you have an existing fleet and drivers, you’ll have to let them go if you opt into a third-party option.

2. It’s Not Their Specialty

While the common theme for these TNCs is transportation-related services, NEMT and public transit are  not their specialty, even if they create specific divisions or products with a healthcare or NEMT focus.

Uber, for example, in addition to acquiring Routematch in July, has also acquired Postmates, Cornershop, and Swipe Labs, among several other business types in the last few years. Lyft’s acquisitions include Halo Cars, Cherry, and YesGraph, none of which focus exclusively on NEMT or NEMT-related services.

And even though the companies are acquiring new businesses, they’re losing employees. In May, Uber announced it was laying off 3,700 employees and closing/consolidating 40 offices. That same month, Lyft announced it would lay off about 17% of its staff, moves fueled by issues related to the coronavirus pandemic.

With acquisitions and layoffs, what’s the immediate impact on customer experience? Are you willing to gamble with customer experience in the interim?

3. It’s Shiny, But Not New

When these large rideshare companies came into the market a few years ago, everything about them seemed innovative. An app to quickly hail and pay-for a ride? Let’s go! But did you know that companies like CTS Software, the creator of TripMaster, have the same abilities to serve riders on-demand? And TripMaster’s technologies are specifically focused on NEMT services.

Need to set up automatic scheduling for repeat appointments? The TripMaster app can handle that. Need to give your riders the ability to quickly and easily schedule rides? No problem thanks to TripPortal, TripMaster’s rider app. Need caretakers or healthcare providers like a representative from an assisted living facility to schedule a ride for someone else? No problem. TripMaster can do that, too.

The TripMaster NEMT solution also can text or call your riders with reminders about upcoming trips, even if multiple stops are planned for that day.

These TNC companies have a lot of bells and whistles—shiny things that catch your attention—but when it comes down to it, don’t you want the services you need and your customers want that are specifically focused on paratransit and NEMT services?

4. Multi-load a No-Go

What makes these rideshare companies successful, in large part, is the volume of cars and drivers they have on routes at any given time. That’s great, but when you’re hailing a ride, you never know which type of vehicle you’ll land, unless you specifically pay for larger or premium vehicles.

If you’re a public transit or NEMT company, you’re likely focused on efficiencies. If you operate in a population-dense area, for example a large city, multi-loading is often the most logical process for operational efficiencies. By offering paratransit services—not one car/one driver at a time— you can pick up a group of passengers, let’s say from a local nursing home, and move them in a timely fashion to appointments with computer-enhanced route-mapping.

The benefits of multi-loading go beyond just route efficiency. It also helps you lower ride costs by sharing the costs of a trip among all the passengers, not just a flat-per-person fee if the rider was alone. Multi-loading trips also saves you money by decreasing the number of vehicles and drivers you have to have on shift throughout your day.

5. NEMT Billing Isn’t Just Swipe and Go for Your Company

One of the things that makes TNC companies appealing to individuals is the ease of payment. Right from the same app you book your trip, you can make payment. It’s basically swipe and go.

But as a public transit service provider, you know that transportation billing is more complicated than that. For NEMT, for example, you want to work with a company that knows the ins and outs of the nuances of Medicare, Medicaid, and related medical billing.

CTS Software has three decades of experience handling Medicare and related billing. That means you know your invoicing and billing records are accurate and compliant.

And, with TripMaster, you can still give your customers the simple payment solutions.

Riders can manage their payments using their TripPass card, TripMaster’s easy-to-use, contactless rider ticketing solution. A TripPass card can be refilled at the office or over the phone. When a rider boards your vehicle, your driver simply scans the TripPass and TripMaster handles the rest. It’s kinda like a bus pass, but with way more benefits.

6. One Day, One Plan

If you’ve had a busy day and needed to use a TNC to move you around to several appointments, you know it’s rare to land the same driver twice in the same day, especially in larger cities. That makes it difficult to build rapport with your clients and brand loyalty.

With TripMaster, however, your clients can schedule multiple stops during a single day, and often can stay with the same driver and the same vehicle throughout the day. If your rider needs to stop at a pharmacy on the way home from an appointment, no problem. That can easily be scheduled as part of the trip without additional waits, delays and other on-demand driver issues.

7. Specialized Training to Your (and Industry) Standards

Ever climb into the backseat of a rideshare or taxi and hold on tight, wondering who taught that driver to drive? Now add a layer of complexity to that based on health or ambulatory issues.

NEMT and paratransit providers generally have higher requirements (training and often certifications) than most rideshare companies. Many state Medicaid programs have not approved TNCs to provide patient services because it’s not as regulated as traditional NEMT service providers. 

As a public transit operator, you can rest easy knowing your drivers, not third-parties, have completed alcohol and drug screenings, are properly trained in CPR and first aid, know how to move, lift and stabilize wheelchairs and stretchers, and have completed a variety of driving-related education and safety courses.

8. Health Information Regulations

While TNCs should now be well-versed in data protection and cybersecurity, as a public transit provider who supports NEMT riders, you understand the extra layer of protections—and trust—that come along with handling personally identifiable information (PII) and protected health information (PHI).

Partnering with a third-party in no way removes your liability for ensuring your riders’ information is compliant with all industry regulations, like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). By partnering with a TNC new to healthcare, do you have confidence they know and can meet standards to protect your riders’ health and personal information? Is this a risk you’re willing to accept for your business or would you feel more secure working closely with service providers who have decades’ of experience in the industry?

9. Overflow Management

Have you ever tried to grab a rideshare during a peak time? Not only do they often charge “surge” (that’s another word for “it costs a lot more”) pricing, but waits are often much longer than you’d like. Since one of the goals of NEMT and paratransit services to is ensure riders actually make it to their appointments—and on time—what happens if your rideshare partner has a limited number of vehicles or drivers on the road during peak times—and those times are when your riders need to get to critical appointments?

If you’re operating your own paratransit service and seats are full, you can use NEMT software like TripMaster to dispatch another driver and vehicle to your rider with little or no delays. 

Best yet, because you’re keeping tabs on your routes through the software’s mapping and fleet tracking features, you can be aware of capacity issues before they occur and have that additional driver on their way to ensure continued OTP success for your company.