Today, Monday May 11, 2020 Ben Franklin Transit (BFT) announced the launch of its new on-demand ride service, called BFT CONNECT, is now fully deployed and operational in all remaining service zones across the Tri-Cities. The service first launched in West Pasco on April 20 and the West Richland and Badger Mountain areas on May 4.

The six service zones include:

  • West Pasco
  • West Richland & Badger Mountain
  • Central Kennewick & Finley
  • Columbia Center & South Richland
  • Central Richland
  • East Pasco.

BFT CONNECT will continue to operate with added support for essential travel needs in all zones during the COVID-19 crisis, and with safety measures in place.

BFT CONNECT will be powered by Via, a company that provides digital infrastructure to power public mobility in cities across the world, under a contract approved by the BFT Board of Directors and signed earlier this year. The vision for the program has been rapidly modified and continues to adjust to support Tri-Citians, residents and essential workers both, during this coronavirus pandemic.

Much like you'd hail an Uber or Lyft, BFT CONNECT will allow riders within active service zones to request a ride directly through the Via mobile app, which directs them to a nearby corner for pickup, allowing quick and efficient trips to or from designated Transit Connections within the same zone.

Under normal operations, Transit Connections will include major bus stops and transit centers. However, as an added service during the ongoing emergency response in the community, select essential service locations including pharmacies, grocery stores, and health clinics will be included as Transit Connections with front door drop-off and pickup.

In the Via app, customers can see, in real time, their available trip options, how far away their driver is, and estimated time of arrival at their destination. Customers without smartphones will be able to call in to request rides and receive text updates as appropriate.

During the state of emergency, no fares will be collected for this service in accordance with BFT’s ongoing safety measures. Once normal fare collection resumes, fares will be collected for BFT CONNECT rides through the Via app, cash, or BFT tickets and passes.

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Under current emergency operating conditions, only one passenger will be allowed in each vehicle per trip, though the service is intended to and will eventually be a shared ride service, with Via’s advanced algorithms allowing multiple riders to seamlessly share a vehicle. At launch, a second passenger will be allowed only as a companion traveling to and from the same destinations, and riders must sit in the back row of the vehicle to maintain proper social distancing from the driver.

Ongoing Safety Measures

To protect passengers and drivers, BFT is continuing daily disinfection procedures in all of their vehicles and facilities and continuing all implemented social distancing measures, including no fare collection and rear-door bus entry until further notice. BFT's top priorities are to continue essential service and to keep their employees and customers healthy and safe.

Reminders for Riders:

  • IF YOU ARE NOT FEELING WELL, DO NOT TAKE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION. Call your healthcare provider before you leave your home and follow their guidance.
  • At this time, public transportation should only be used for ESSENTIAL TRIPS, including for food/grocery needs, medical appointments, pharmacy, and work.

BFT will continue to monitor COVID-19-related developments and take appropriate action using guidance from public health authorities.

From a Ben Franklin Transit Press Release