Many rural residents across the U.S. rely on public transportation for medical appointments, shopping and other necessities.
But distance and a limited number of providers can make this challenging. A startup in the NMotion Accelerator is changing that.
“Our key solution is to improve mobility in rural areas by connecting various types of public transportation with a rural Uber version,” said Valerie Lefler, President & CEO. “Our drivers can help improve service at night or on weekends, or when a public transit bus is on the other side of the county.”
Liberty also works with planning agencies, medical centers and organizations serving people with special needs. For example, the Texas Transportation Commission just approved a partnership between Liberty and the Coastal Bend Center for Independent Living.
“They’re working with us to complement all the various transit agencies in the city and rural areas around Corpus Christi,” Lefler said.
Liberty needed to comply with Texas transportation network company requirements that include driver fingerprinting. This is a requirement that has caused Uber to pull out of cities like Austin and Galveston, as well as Corpus Christi.
“We are the only transportation network company going through that process,” Lefler said.
Working with, not against, the public sector
Does Liberty see itself as a competitor in this space?
“Our goal is not to be a competitor, but a private sector partner,” Lefler said. “We want a symbiotic, public/private partnership.”
Liberty has also launched service in the Scottsbluff area, serving the Nebraska panhandle through a partnership with transit provider Panhandle Trails.
“If there’s public transportation, we want to partner,” Lefler said. “In counties that aren’t served, we’ll work with a community or hospital.”
Is Liberty strictly a service for rural areas?
“We have a partnership with the Nebraska Families Collaborative,” Lefler said. “Even in an urban area like Omaha we can serve over 2,500 families to facilitate transportation.”
The medical community in particular has taken notice. The Liberty team recently presented at the National Institute of Medicine in Washington, D.C.
“Transportation is cheaper than hospitalization every day of the week,” Lefler said. “Studies show a decrease in cost and use of emergency rooms when transportation is available.”
More jobs for rural America
Between drivers and local management, there is the potential to add jobs in rural communities.
“In Scottsbluff, there will be a local Liberty community manager,” Lefler said. “This person will recruit drivers, coordinate training and customer service, and do promotion.”
Driver training is extensive, due in part to the service provided to the medical community.
“When someone signs up to be a driver, they get a full day of in-person training,” Lefler said. “This includes customer service, first aid and six hours on HIPAA compliance. What’s said in the car is absolutely confidential.”
From idea to grant to accelerator
So how did you come up with the idea for Liberty?
“Shashank (Shashank Gajjala, Vice President & CTO) and I worked for the Department of Roads while we were at UNO and learned about the challenges for rural transportation,” Lefler said. “But it can take up to a year to be a public transit provider.”
“A dear friend told me about an opportunity to serve people with special needs, and they need help right away. We brainstormed the concept until 2 in the morning at Catalyst.”
Lefler was asked how Liberty got connected with NMotion.
“Our attorney directed us to the program,” she said. “We received a Phase I SBIR [Small Business Innovation Research] grant, and we’re trying to figure out how to move this forward and make it sustainable.”
“The mentors are amazing, especially Mac Rodgers” she said. “His advice and mentorship and support has been priceless.”
Rod Armstrong is Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for AIM in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is a regular contributor to Silicon Prairie News.