The Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority is looking into implementing an innovative, Call-a-Ride public shuttle service that would provide curb-to-curb rides throughout the city of Tulsa.
"This service is more of a market-based service that will be financed primarily through customer fares," said Bill Cartwright, general manager and CEO of the Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority. "It would be something closer to a taxi service than what you think of traditional bus service."
The Call-a-Ride service would provide curb-to-curb service for the city of Tulsa, allowing customers to call to set up a time for a shuttle to pick them up and take them to their destination for a set fare. The rate for each ride would be less than what taxi companies charge in Tulsa, Cartwright said.
Tulsa's transit service is underfunded and does not have the number of buses on the streets to meet a major portion of the population, said Cynthia Staab, assistant general manager for the Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority.
This service can fill that gap for many Tulsans, she said.
"There are a lot of areas that don't have convenient bus service," she said. "For those people who can afford it, this will be an excellent alternative for them."
And Cartwright expects this program to target a different group in Tulsa who do not typically use the Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority's bus system to get around the city.
"In Tulsa, our fixed route service is primarily used by transit-dependent people," he said. "This service would be primarily targeted to people that are choice riders -- people who do have options, and they would want to use this as one of their options."
The Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority is currently conducting a survey online to gauge the demand for the program and will look at the results after the survey closes on July 30.
The eight-question survey asks questions to determine if people would be able to pay the fare, how often they currently use taxis, how often they use the public transit system, what their main purpose for using the service would be and how many vehicles they own. If the plan is approved and wanted by surveyors, a pilot program would be launched this fall.
This pilot program would not take long to set up with much of the infrastructure needed for the program in place, Staab said.
"We'd use our existing resources to implement this service," she said. "We have a call-center, scheduling software, and people who do scheduling, so we can pretty much kick this type of service off with our existing infrastructure."
Cartwright said some people have already asked about the possible program and have been confused about what kinds of vehicles the Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority would use to shuttle customers around town.
"This wouldn't be the large buses," he said. "It would be more like a minivan or shuttle. We're not talking about driving a 40-foot bus down your street."
Tulsa would be one of the first cities to implement such a curb-to-curb shuttle service. Cartwright said he only knows of St. Louis using a similar citywide program.
"This is kind of a new thing," he said.
"It's not being done in many places. It's been suggested from time to time, but we've never taken a hard look at it."
Although the service is similar to a taxi service, some differences exist. People who would use the Call-a-Ride service might have to share a ride with others along the route, Cartwright said. Customers will be charged a cheaper price if they schedule a ride a day in advance. Rough plans of the pilot program suggest the rate per ride would be cheaper than a taxi service, too.
Because of this direct competition with taxi companies, the Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority sent an inquiry to the Federal Transit Administration to ensure that creating this service would not violate federal regulations. Cartwright expects to receive a reply within the next 30 days.
Even if the government approves of the program, Cartwright is anticipating some anxiety from a few businesses in the Tulsa area.
"If it looks like we are going to move forward with this, I would expect some concern with the taxi services," he said.
Rosie McKinney, a dispatcher for the Cowboy Cab/Tulsa Taxi company, said Cartwright is correct to assume some anxiety.
"Of course that would affect taxi companies," she said. "I know it would affect our business."
Customers sharing rides on routes through the Call-a-Ride service would cut back on costs for the city to implement the service, she said. Because of this, taxi companies might have to lower their rates. With most taxi companies in Tulsa charging about $2 per mile, lowering prices would cut back on the money drivers make per trip, McKinney said.
"That would probably hurt our van drivers (that) we have," she said.
The Call-a-Ride survey can be taken on the Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority's website at tulsatransit.org.
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