Next time you’re heading out to catch a movie at the Enzian, an exhibit opening at the Maitland Art Center, or a train at the Maitland SunRail station, if you dial up an Uber instead of hopping in the driver seat, the city of Maitland will help pay your way.
Starting July 1, Maitland will subsidize 20 percent of the fare for Uber trips that begin and end within the city, and 25 percent of the cost for trips to or from the Maitland SunRail station. Maitland joins four other local cities – Altamonte Springs, Longwood, Lake Mary and Sanford – in a one-year pilot program agreement with Uber to subsidize rides with the on-demand transportation app with hopes of driving up SunRail ridership.
Acting City Manager Sharon Anselmo said the agreement provides a “final mile” solution for SunRail, giving rail riders the means to get from the station to their final destination.
“This is an option to not take your car,” Anselmo said. “…It's truly a marketing effort to try to get people out of their cars, and in Florida that's really hard.”
The agreement is a fill-in for FlexBus, the proposed on-demand bus system that was designed to carry riders from stops throughout the city to the SunRail station. A series of logistical potholes stalled out that system before its wheels ever started rolling.
FlexBus was estimated to cost the city $250,000 for the first year of service. According to city estimates, the Uber deal is 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.
Maitland City Council members voted 4-1 to join the Uber pilot program, but more than one Council member voiced concerns over how the agreement shook out.
Councilman John Lowndes, the only dissenting vote, said he worried about the wording of the agreement and what legal ramifications it could spur.
“This is like hiring a vendor and having no idea what they just sold you,” he said.
Lowndes said he was particularly concerned about how public record requests for Uber data would be handled. 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.
Councilman Mike Thomas said he supported the deal subsidizing rides to SunRail, but wasn’t a fan of the city covering the cost of rides elsewhere.
“SunRail I see, [but] everything else just doesn't make sense as to why we're getting into the business of subsidizing taxis,” Thomas said.
Wiggle room to change the terms of the agreement was limited, Anselmo said, since the other partner cities had already signed on as-is.
“The pilot project is take it or leave it,” she said.
Uber will provide the pilot program cities with data counts for how many riders utilized the subsidy for rides with in the city versus rides to SunRail, as well as the average distance of trips. The hope, Anselmo said, is for the city to be able to use that data to gauge the success of the program, and how the city’s transportation plan should proceed once the one-year program ends.
Mayor Dale McDonald said the cost savings over what FlexBus would have cost, or what any other potential on-demand transportation options could cost, made the Uber deal worth the risk.
“It may provide our residents discounted choices that they’ve never had before,” McDonald said. “…And if nobody rides it, it doesn’t cost us much.”