As part of its 2007 draft master plan, Columbia Transit officials have proposed Dial-A-Ride, a program that would allow Columbia residents to reserve after-hours bus rides beginning in January 2008.
“One of the things I’ve heard over and over is that individuals work different shifts and that they need transportation to and from work,” said Mark Grindstaff, Public Works supervisor of Columbia Transit. “Working on the plan gave me the opportunity to put (Dial-A-Ride) together.”
With its one-way fare of $3, Dial-A-Ride is expected to net about $5,000 in annual revenue. Transportation officials based that estimate on the level of demand for the program indicated in a log of public comments.
“We looked at the number of requests that we have for this type of service, and we tried to do a guesstimate,” Grindstaff said.
The draft master plan calls for regular weekday hours of 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Dial-A-Ride service would be offered from 8:30 p.m. to midnight and from 4 a.m. to 6:30 a.m.
Grindstaff worked with several city departments, including Human Resources, to determine the program’s best operation hours.
“We went to the factories and asked (employers) what their shift changes were,” Grindstaff said. “We found in our survey that there didn’t seem to be any shift changes (between midnight and 4 a.m.),” he said.
Dial-A-Ride users would be required to register with the transit system’s database through an application process. Users would need, for example, an affidavit from employers of their job status and work hours. The database would make it easy for riders to use Dial-A-Ride.
“When they make reservations for a trip, we’ll already have them in our system,” Grindstaff said. “They wouldn’t need proof of ID.”
Riders would need exact change before boarding. No-shows would be fined $7, expected at the next ride.
The service would be limited to people who need rides to school, jobs, non-emergency medical appointments or to and from Columbia Regional Airport.
Riders could make reservations from 24 hours to two weeks in advance, but airport riders could schedule anytime. Grindstaff also noted the option of permanent time-slot reservations.
“We’re anticipating that there’ll be a routine,” Grindstaff said, referring to riders who will use the service frequently.
Columbia Transit would use its paratransit scheduling system and its vans to provide the service. Grindstaff said officials anticipated further use of its paratransit scheduling software.
“We knew there would be an expansion when we purchased it,” he said.
Because Dial-A-Ride is subject to City Council approval, changes are possible.
“At this time we don’t know what to expect,” Grindstaff said, “but as we put the plan together, we made it flexible.”
As for program implementation, changes are not only possible but expected.
“We’ll start out and see what happens,” said Ken Koopmans, the city’s transportation manager. “If the turnout is very poor in the beginning, we might only have one (vehicle) till midnight. If we’re getting quite a few rides though, then we’ll put out other vehicles.”
All in all, the program will be a learning experience for Columbia Transit.
“There will be growing pains,” Koopmans said. “We’re going to have to learn and grow and see what our coverage will be.”