By PAUL DAME

There’s something in the DNA of Vermonters that comes from our Yankee ingenuity that helps us solve problems using limited resources, and usually in a way that helps benefit our community at large.

While a full-time professional squad of firefighters might make sense for larger areas like Burlington – the same service is quite impractical for smaller communities in rural Vermont. So we improvise, and put together a network of dozens of volunteers who help out – when the need arises. Similarly a centralized public transportation system makes sense in population dense areas like those in and around Burlington. But it becomes difficult to justify it most parts of the state. But just as previous generations of technology, like pagers and radio, helped to enable volunteer fire departments to provide an important service in rural areas that would otherwise be impractical, today there is another opportunity for rural Vermont to embrace technology to help empower individuals to help their neighbors.

Transportation network companies like Lyft are looking to expand in Vermont to help connect Vermonters to each other and make the impractical possible, using a decentralized model similar to the volunteer firefighters our local communities depend on.

Networks like Lyft don’t seek to send in fleets of vehicles to crowd our roads with out of state license plates, but instead are here to help us better connect with each other.  In so many places in rural Vermont there are people who – due to age, finances or other circumstances – find themselves temporarily, or permanently without a means of transportation. Lyft can help solve those challenges and fill critical transportation needs.

There are also thousands of Vermonters who could really benefit from making a few extra bucks, and maybe making better connections with the people that live in their area. Individuals around the country have used services like Lyft to earn money on their own schedule. in 2017, Lyft drivers nationwide earned $3.6 billion. Over 90 percent of those drivers drove part-time around a full-time job or other responsibilities.

Lyft has also been shown to enhance safety by reducing DUIs and giving people a safe way to get home. Communities around the country with access to ridesharing services have seen declines in DUI arrests and deaths. Additionally, ridesharing services provide a greater level of safety than do traditional transportation options. Before a potential driver can offer his or services, they must undergo a thorough background check process that checks for criminal offenses and driving infractions. Companies like Lyft also carry insurance limits up to $1,000,000,000. And they have a number of other innovative features, like the two-way rating system, real-time tracking of rides, and the ability to share you route and ETA with a friend, that all enhance rider safety beyond what public transit offers.

As the legislature looks at regulating these ridesharing companies I hope that they can preserve the way these companies have been able to do business so that drivers and riders can continue to benefit from financial opportunities and needed transportation in places where they are hard to come by while also providing common sense protections and the freedom they need to help each other as neighbors.

Paul Dame is president of the Vermont Young Professionals organization.