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Could a ride-hailing/public transit hybrid be the future of commuting?

SALT LAKE CITY — Ride-hailing service Lyft is offering a new, subscription-based service for frequent users in Utah, and it's one that may be a foreshadowing of networked transportation companies playing a bigger role in daily commute options.

Lyft announced this week it's starting a waiting list for those interested in a monthly subscription service that gives participants 30 rides for $200. All destinations served by Lyft are eligible, though individual rides need to be a $15-or-under fare. Those eligible for the program will be notified via the Lyft app, according to a company spokesman.

Rates for short trips with ride hailing services in Utah are still generally more expensive, depending on distance, than an adult fare on bus/TRAX service, currently $2.50 for a one-way journey or $5 for a round-trip.

However, the new Lyft pass comes closer to going head-to-head with transit options. A "premium" monthly pass, which includes passage on all bus, TRAX and Frontrunner services, retails for $198, according to information posted on the Utah Transit Authority's website.

An interesting new twist — one that combines some of the convenience and immediacy of ride hailing services with the more economical option of public transit — are experiments in new hybrid programs that are embracing the best of both to solve long-running issues for non-car commuters.

Monrovia, California just launched a partnership in March with Lyft that gives residents of the L.A. suburb access to 50 cent rides within the city and to connect with existing public transportation infrastructure. The GoMonrovia effort includes a bikeshare program that also gives residents $1 fares on 30-minute bike rides. In a statement, Monrovia City Manager Oliver Chi said the program was the result of the city's effort to identify private sector partners that could help improve transit options for its residents.

"As we assessed the situation, we realized early on that widely adopted technology platforms could facilitate a new public transportation model for our suburban community,” Chi said.

“Private sector firms such as Lyft and LimeBike have created tremendous technologies that enable them to provide a personalized and on-demand transportation service. We knew that from a user perspective, existing public transit options just can’t compete with the speed and convenience offered by these new tech platforms.

"And so instead of fighting, we looked to see how we could leverage what these companies do best in order for us to better serve the community,” Chi said.

And that's an idea very much on the radar of Salt Lake City transportation officials as they continue to seek ways to help residents in neighborhoods where there is a dearth of public transit service.

Julianne Sabula, Salt Lake City's transit program manager, said the city, in its new transit master plan, identified the need to innovate solutions to get people in the city's "transit deserts" connected with public transportation nodes.

Sabula said networked transportation companies could play a role in solving the first-mile/last-mile connection dilemma.

"Access to some type of on-demand service that gets people from their front doors to transit and from transit, home could really help open up these neighborhoods," Sabula said.

The city, in partnership with the Utah Transit Authority, is hoping to assemble a pilot program in the next six months that would test the efficiency and effectiveness of a public-private partnership that incorporated some version of an on-demand transit connector service, Sabula said. A city request for information has already been posted and Sabula said while she can't reveal who has responded until the process is complete, the intent is to harvest ideas for the program from relevant entities, including networked transportation companies.

Sabula said the city has also reached out to other municipalities that are trying out new hybrid systems aiming to merge ride-hailing with public transit, though most of the efforts are brand new, like Monrovia's. It's one of the challenges, Sabula said, of working to incorporate new technology in formulating transit solutions. She also noted the importance of pilot programs in vetting new ideas.

"This is a landscape that's changing, and evolving, very quickly," Sabula said. "When we do tests and pilots with new ideas, it's the best way to test the market and find out, from those who use the system, how it's working and whether we've found a long-term solution."

While Lyft has partnered with numerous municipalities across the U.S. in transit connection efforts, whether or not they are a potential Salt Lake partner remains to be seen. Data provided by the company for Salt Lake City users of its service shows that 19 percent are already using Lyft for connecting to transit, 31 percent use it to get around when public transit isn't operating and 33 percent use it to commute to work.

Lyft spokesman Jeremy Neigher said the company has found great success in Utah, citing 100 percent growth rate, year-over-year. He also said the company wants to be a part of solving residents' transportation challenges as the state continues its high-octane growth cycle.

"We see the growth that's taken place all along the Wasatch Front and want to be a part of the logistical solutions," Niegher said.

The intersection of private and public transportation interests is the quest to design and implement systems that are simultaneously affordable, convenient and reliable and it may be on this basis alone that the two merge to the greater public benefit.

In Monrovia, the hope is they've found a system that's just too effortless to ignore.

“The challenge we were trying to solve in developing the GoMonrovia initiative was to see if we could create an affordable transportation program that was so easy to use that the broader community might seriously consider public transit in Monrovia as a real option,” said Chi.