IEDC: Rural transit startups benefit the car-less, but face big obstacles

From IEDC: In most of rural America, car ownership is a necessity. Yet not all can afford one or are capable of driving themselves. And while urbanites may take ride-hailing apps such as Lyft and Uber for granted, startups such as Liberty in the Nebraska panhandle want to prove that innovation knows no geography.

The panhandle region is fortunate enough to have intercity bus service, but it’s a large area to cover. Liberty plans to act as a last-mile transit solution, arranging rides to and from bus drop-offs, either through a smartphone app or the company’s call center. The company wants to keep prices around $1 per mile and allow drivers to keep 80 percent of their fares. Liberty will also work with hospitals so that caregivers can arrange rides for their patients. The company will open later this year, pending approval from the Nebraska Public Service Commission.

Sixty miles outside of Atlanta, the Forsythia Transit Company began as a fill-in for public bus service in the small town of Forsyth (Next City). However, the plucky husband-and-wife duo found it difficult to attract riders with a set route and schedule, so they switched up their business model to provide private shuttle service for special events. The company later pivoted once again, now focusing mostly on food delivery.

More rural transit options would help people get to jobs, enable small businesses to reach new customers and cut down on drunk driving. But crafting a sustainable business model in sparsely populated areas will continue to prove challenging.

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