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Lyft works with Buffalo-area employers to help fill gaps in public transportation system

Posted at 5:12 PM, Nov 23, 2018

Lyft is working with Buffalo-area employers to help people get to work.

The ride-sharing company is collaborating with the Buffalo Niagara Partnership's "Employ" program, an arm of the economic development agency tasked with strengthening the region's workforce, to figure out whether a "first-last mile" program would work well in Western New York. 

Employ has identified transportation as one of the main barriers to employment in Western New York.

"We recently helped place somebody into a company and they didn't make their ninety day probation because they missed work so much, between their childcare situation and the bus being either late or not running at all," Marilyn Roach, Director of Employ, told 7 Eyewitness News.

"This is a real problem," Roach added.

Roach is overseeing a coalition of 120 employers and stakeholders from the public and private sector to come up with creative solutions to some of the greatest workforce challenges.

Enter: Lyft.

The company works with employers in municipalities across the country to transport employees to major employment hubs that aren't easily accessible by public transit.

"There are lots of examples in other parts of the country where communities have either replaced a low performing bus line with a program that provides discounts or more affordable rides to groups of people that are able to use Lyft to get around where the bus used to," said Katie O'Sullivan, program manager at Go Buffalo Niagara, who is leading Employ's transportation committee.

An example O'Sullivan uses is the Thruway Plaza in Cheektowaga.  That mall, located at Walden Avenue and Harlem Road, is a transit center for a number of buses. The idea would be to have Lyft pick up employees from that transit center, and take employees the few remaining miles to their workplace.

"It can be adaptive, respond to where the demand is and take people wherever they need to go," O'Sullivan said.

The idea is already getting early buy-in from employers, O'Sullivan says, however no actual agreements have been made yet with Lyft or other ride-sharing companies and the BNP to turn this idea into reality.  Roach and O'Sullivan say they are still in the discovery stage, with Lyft acting as an advisor.

Funding is needed to get these creative solutions on the road, Roach says, but she expects to see progress in 2019.

"If employers are taking the initiative there's obviously a [return on investment] for them but they recognize the ROI for the community," Road said.