Milpitas’ ride-share program is its best kept secret
Milpitas' rideshare program drives residents around the city for a low cost and is growing in ridership. Photo courtesy of Charmaine Angelo.

Milpitas has an exclusive ride-share service much cheaper than Uber for locals to get around town—but not many people know about it.

The Simple Mobile Access to Reliable Transit (SMART) program is a city ride-share service, with a fleet of six vehicles, that takes residents across the city at a maximum cost of $2.50 per ride. The Milpitas City Council is struggling to keep the program alive, since the lion’s share comes from a VTA grant and state dollars which could dry up.

The ride-share program only generates about $2,000 per month. As of last year, it operated on a more than $1 million VTA grant through Measure B, $200,000 from developer fees and $71,000 from the city’s Capital Improvement Program. The program was going to run out of money in approximately four months, but the city is receiving an infusion of $1.6 million from the state after successful lobbying efforts. Those dollars and the remaining VTA funds will carry the program through 2025.

Councilmember Garry Barbadillo suggested looking into funding sources from within the city, including businesses and developers who could be incentivized to support the program.

“Let’s see how we can sustain it even if it’s a year or two years from now, so we won’t lose the traction that this program has had. If not funding through grants or whatnot, let’s see how the city would be able to fund this when no grants are available,” Barbadillo said at a meeting this month.

When the program launched, it only took riders to and from four hub locations—Milpitas City Hall, the Transit Center, Great Mall and the VTA Alder Station. Jay Lee, Milpitas interim planning director, said users consistently tried to travel to destinations outside of those four hubs, prompting the city to reconfigure the service in February. It now provides personalized pickups and stops, and ridership is on the rise.

“A lot of our residents may not have an easy way to get to and from those transit stations (so) we wanted to provide a service that bridges that gap in an easy and affordable way,” Lee told San José Spotlight.

The change led to a jump in riders, Lee said, as average daily ridership increased from less than five passengers to about 106 passengers as of August. The first two weeks of September have already seen higher ridership than August, he said.

Councilmembers are looking into further changes that could expand operating hours and add electric vehicles to the fleet. The ride-share program operates from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays. The city needs VTA approval to increase the hours since the program is funded by Measure B.

Added service will increase operating costs and cut the program’s projected lifespan by a few months, unless more funding is found beyond 2025. But even then, fare revenue will never cover operations, Lee said.

“Even if the ridership where to go up to 420 regular riders, it wouldn’t cover the entire cost, because the fares are very low. We want it to be affordable to our communities, but we’ll look at the fares in the future,” Lee told San José Spotlight. “We’ll have to balance that, the affordability and accessibility but also having this be a sustainable service.”

Contact B. Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] or follow @SakuCannestra on Twitter.

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