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County puts more money into Manor ride-hailing program

Wednesday, January 15, 2020 by Jack Craver

In response to higher-than-expected ridership, Travis County is putting more money into a six-month-old ride-hailing program in Manor.

The Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to authorize up to $25,000 to help purchase a third bus for the Manor Pickup service, which is funded jointly by the county, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Capital Area Rural Transportation System.

Capital Metro rolled out Pickup last year in five areas that lack access to traditional bus service – in some instances because it was taken away in Capital Metro’s overhaul of routes in mid-2018. People in these areas can get a door-to-door ride anywhere within the area for the cost of bus fare ($1.25), either through a smartphone app, a la Uber, or by phoning. Passengers are picked up by a small bus that might pick up other passengers hailing rides along the way.

About a quarter of the territory included in the Manor Pickup zone is in unincorporated parts of Travis County that are outside of Capital Metro’s service area. Capital Metro is prohibited from paying for service to those areas, which is why Travis County is chipping in.

“Since the Manor Pickup service began in June 2019, ridership has grown steadily over the past six months, to such a degree that transit planners at CapMetro and CARTS have determined a third bus needs to be deployed in order to prevent service level decay,” says a memo by Scheleen Walker, a long-range planning manager for the county. “The service goal is to pick up passengers at the location they request within the service area within 15 minutes of a request. With current ridership interest, two buses are no longer able to handle the demand, frustrating current and potential riders.”

The service generated just over 1,000 boardings a month in July, August and September. Ridership jumped to 1,813 in October and then dropped to 1,478 in November, the most recent month of data available.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty urged caution in approving the additional funding, warning that the ask would only grow. Not only will the Commissioners Court face pressure to continue increasing service to Manor, he said, but people in other parts of the county will start demanding what amounts to a heavily discounted shuttle service.

“I think that Travis County better be very careful where we’re going with this because there are a lot of areas that need this kind of service,” he said. “I don’t think that Travis County is equipped to become a public transit provider, especially with (state-imposed revenue caps).”

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt replied that the court should hope that such services prove popular and are coveted by the public.

“It’s far cheaper to have a transit system than to build out a roadway network that requires everyone to convey themselves in a private vehicle,” she said.

Eckhardt did agree that finding funding for decent public transit is a “daunting task.” Ultimately she believes that the county will have to look to the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which has traditionally existed to build toll roads, as a source of transit funding.

The court voted 4-1 to approve the funding, with Daugherty the sole dissenter.

Photo by Ryan Thornton.

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