New London launches on-demand rideshare service pilot program

Several people line up at the top of the hour to hop on a bus to get to their destination within and outside the city of New London.

A new pilot program called NL SmartRide started Monday, allowing people to call from their homes to get a small, microbus to pick them up from home and bring them to a destination within the city.

It’s an on-demand public transportation service similar to ride-hailing systems like Uber and Lyft. All users need is an app on their phone called Spare Rider, which will allow them to call for the bus and get a ride right to where they want to go within the city of New London. People can also call the Southeast Area Transit District (SEAT) at 860-934-5234, the dedicated line for the SmartRide service.

“We wanted to try to develop a public transit system within the city that people would use,” Mayor Michael Passero said. “One of the things we’ll be checking on during the pilot period is like how long we’re waiting.”

For the first six months during the pilot period, the rides are free. After that, they are the same price as other city buses. Those rates are $1.75 per ride or a discounted rate of 85 cents for those who qualify.

“This would be absolutely great,” New London resident Chris Easow said.

The service would have the convenience of Uber, but at a fraction of that cost and in a fraction of the time a fixed-route bus takes.

“I pay like $21 to get where I need to go,” Santos said. “If I go shopping, like to go to ShopRite, I take Uber, or I take the bus. It takes like an hour before I get on the bus to get back home, but if I can do that [use the SmartRide service], I would get home faster. I would love to try that.”

Local leaders want more people to climb on board who don’t necessarily need public transportation but choose to use it because of this service. If someone wanted to go to a show or dinner downtown, they can take the bus and leave their car at home.

“It’s easier to just call the bus,” Passero said. “You can relax, enjoy yourself, and when you’re ready to go home, call the bus and it will take you back home.”

While on the SmartRide, the microbus may pick up others along the way.