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  • Christinne Rudd

Transportation Pilot Provides Free Rides Across County Lines

Advantage Ride, a free door-to-door transportation service that allows riders with disabilities to cross county lines is being piloted in Hillsborough, Manatee, and Pinellas counties through June.

Safe, affordable, and accessible transportation options that fit the specific needs of people with disabilities are few and far between. In partnership with the Florida Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged, UZURV – parent to Advantage Ride - is attempting to fill this need in the disability community. They are an adaptive transportation network company focused on providing safe and reliable transportation to persons with disabilities. UZURV is currently the vendor providing paratransit service for the Greater Richmond Transit Company in Richmond, Virginia, and operates similar services in Arizona, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

If you’ve ever been a paratransit passenger, you probably know that one of the main concerns of using any of these services is getting to your destination in a timely fashion. According to UZURV’s Vice President of Corporate Outreach, Trish Fitzpatrick, their on-time performance rate is between 95-97%.

Right now, Advantage Ride is limited to individuals on the Medicaid waiver and waiver waiting list. Eligible riders in Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Manatee Counties can travel for any purpose within and between these counties that are not provided through their waiver services. Wheelchair accessible vehicles are available and caregivers are permitted to ride along free of charge.

Rides are free under the Advantage Ride pilot and can be scheduled two weeks to two hours in advance by phone. UZURV rides in other cities charge a nominal fee. Riders receive text message notifications and all rides are GPS tracked and monitored. If a passenger needs to cancel their ride, Advantage Ride requests a two-hour window. They’re trying to expand the ways passengers can book rides. One method they are exploring is an online app where passengers can schedule trips using their computer or device. Those who aren’t internet savvy need not worry since the call-in option will still be available.

Funding for this pilot is provided by the state of Florida and administered by the Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged. It officially began in January of 2019 and is slated to last six months. The program is the result of recommendations from the Florida Legislature’s Transportation Task Force that was formed in 2017 to address transportation priorities advocated for by various disability agencies including the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council and Florida Self-Advocates Network’D (FL SAND). Advantage Ride’s service delivery model is similar to ride-sharing services such as Uber and LYFT, but riders can request a favorite driver they’ve had before. The drivers aren’t your typical run-of-the-mill paratransit drivers either. They set their own schedules, are independent contractors, are background checked, and are required to complete CPR and disability sensitivity training. UZURV also recruits drivers who already work in a helping profession. Advantage Ride training is being delivered live through advocacy groups and via webinar.

Self-advocates can hopefully make strides with this service by not only trying it out if they live in the pilot counties but by helping to spread the word with agencies and people with disabilities. Once the pilot is complete we can also help advocate for its expansion, either as is or with improvements. Advantage Ride is definitely a move in the right direction. Let your voice be heard and let’s do our best to help expand the service so that others who aren’t on the waiver can have this available to them as a transportation option in our communities.

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