A partnership between Dakota County and ridesharing service Lyft is giving certain county residents on Medicaid waivers a new transportation option to and from their place of work.

The partnership is a pilot project focused on assisting people with disabilities find work in non-public transit locations or hours, the county announced in a press release on Monday. Any residents who receive home and community-based services are eligible for the free program that started in April.

"We decided to think outside the box, 'Would a rideshare service be an option for folks?'" said Robyn Bernardy, Dakota County's transportation coordinator.

The county is banking on the service as a reliable on-demand transportation option for those who need it, she said. She also pointed to the service as a way of giving some relief to family members who are sometimes asked to give rides.

Currently, the county offers bus passes and works with other transportation providers to give employment transportation for residents, she said. The residents can use their Lyft credit to help augment that existing service, she said.

"We hope a lot of people use this ... we really think it will open up employment opportunities for individuals," Bernardy said.

The county is rolling out the service in phases and is set to be available for everyone by fall, according to the press release.

Currently, there are 28 riders and the county hopes that "several hundred" of the 590 eligible people will be using the service by the time the program fully launches in the fall, Bernardy said.

The cost for eligible residents is free and paid through Medicaid waivers, with each rider receiving a certain amount of credit to their Lyft account. The credit can shift based on where their workplace is and other factors, Bernardy said.

The county received a $100,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services to help facilitate the program in May 2018. The grant is used to fund trainings for county residents to learn how to use the ridesharing service and other related topics.

In an emailed statement, DHS Deputy Commissioner Claire Wilson said that the organization is excited about the partnership.

"This new, creative approach will help people with disabilities live and work in their communities," she said. "Our partners who received these innovation grants are increasing opportunities for people with disabilities to live the lives they want."

The contract between the county and Lyft ends in June 2020.