Maitland program with Uber off to slow start

Maitland ridership low

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  • | 11:20 a.m. December 15, 2016
Photo by: Isaac Babcock - Maitlanders have used the incentive program, paid for by Maitland, but not as much as officials hoped when they implemented it.
Photo by: Isaac Babcock - Maitlanders have used the incentive program, paid for by Maitland, but not as much as officials hoped when they implemented it.
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Maitland started subsidizing Uber rides that begin or end within its city limits six months ago. So far, the city has only two months worth of ridership data and no bill.

City Manager Sharon Anselmo said so far the city has only received ridership numbers from the first two months of service from July and August. That, she said, equates to about $125 owed by the city for two months of service. But, Anselmo said, Uber has yet to provide the city with a bill or ridership data from the rest of the year.

The aim of the program, which subsidizes 20 percent of the cost of rides beginning or ending in Maitland and 25 percent of the fare for rides beginning or ending at the Maitland SunRail station, was to provide a new “final mile” solution of getting commuters to their final destinations from the SunRail station.

“[It has] not been as well utilized as we had hoped,” Mayor Dale McDonald said.

But, he said, the project, whether it is slow to succeed or not, is still worth being a part of, as it offers a new and inventive way to help solve a persistent transportation problem.

According to city estimates, the Uber deal was expected to cost the city between $7,000 and $16,000 for the year depending on ridership. The city’s subsidy caps out at $5 per ride within Maitland, and $6.25 per ride to or from the SunRail station. If the data reported from July and August were indicative of ridership all 12 months of the pilot year, the city’s bill would be under $800.

Altamonte Springs, which was the first city to take part in the Uber-subsidized program, has received a bill from Uber regarding its services, but City Manager Frank Martz declined to say how many rides have been completed within the program, or how much the city is paying. He said those figures fall under “trade secrets” and won’t be made public. But, he said, the city is pleased with the results of the partnership so far.

“We’re very happy with the response and we’re very happy that we’ve been able to bring some additional transportation options online for our residents,” Martz said.

Martz cited a court case earlier this year between Yellow Cab and Broward County to defend Altamonte not releasing its Uber information. In the case, the cab company sued the county over its refusal to release its log of Uber’s pickups and drop offs at its airport and seaport. In May, a judge ruled in the county’s favor that the Uber records are considered “trade secrets” and therefore are exempt from the state’s public record laws.

Maitland City Attorney Cliff Shepard said that while ridership numbers are protected under the city’s agreement with Uber, the cost of the rides to the city should be public.

“It’s a budget item,” Shepard said. “I don’t know how its possible for a budget item to be a trade secret.”

Back when Maitland approved joining the Uber pilot program, Councilman John Lowndes was the sole dissenting vote. He voted against the agreement because of his concerns over how records from the program would be made public.

If ridership information was kept secret, he said, “This is like hiring a vendor and having no idea what they just sold you.”

Uber has the right to protect its trade secrets, he said, but the public also has the right under the Sunshine Law to access city deals and documents.

Anselmo said this week that since the funding of the program comes out of the city’s budget, the total cost of the subsidies would have to be public.

Altamonte Springs reportedly budgeted $500,000 to cover the cost of its Uber subsidizes. Martz declined to say how much of that budget has been spent since it launched its partnership with Uber in March. He also declined to disclose how many of the subsidized rides have actually serviced the city’s SunRail station.

“It’s been helpful to us from the standpoint of how we will imagine future transportation alternatives,” Martz said.

Anselmo said she plans on contacting Uber to get updated ridership and billing information, as the program reaches its halfway point this month.


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