|Kato Flex Pilot Program
A recommendation of the Transit Development Plan that was adopted by the City Council on June 25, 2018 was a pilot program referred to as “flex service”. The purpose of flex service is to provide a dial-a-ride transit plan for areas of the community not within a quarter mile of a fixed route. These areas include West Mankato, Northern Tourtellotte Park, Germania Park, and areas of upper North Mankato. Under the flex service plan, a resident in the defined flex zones would schedule a curb side pick-up and then be transported to a transit hub whereby they could access the fixed route system. The fixed route system covers most of the shopping, health care, and industrial job centers in the community. The rider would then return to a hub for a scheduled pick-up ride back to their home. This is commonly referred to in the transit industry of addressing the first and last mile trips for those outside of the fixed route system.
The original goal was to implement a flex service program in the latter half of 2018; however, delays in new bus delivery moved this timeline into the summer of 2019 when an existing fixed route bus could be used because the on-campus MSU routes are suspended for the summer months. During the summer months a used bus purchase will be pursued pending a new bus purchase (note, bus delivery is from 6-18 months because buses are built on-demand and not usually stocked).
A flex service pilot plan, called the Kato Flex, has been designed by the Transit Team for roll-out in the first week of June. The pilot is proposed to run between the first week of June to the end of the year with evaluation occurring during the pilot period. At first, service hours will be 6:45 am to 10:45 am and 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm, Monday through Friday. The service hours correspond to the fixed route hours. The hours can also be adjusted as the service is implemented and demands are better defined. The initial areas of service is targeted to low to moderate income neighborhoods that have a higher likelihood of transit dependent populations, such as Germania Park, Sibley Park/West Mankato, and parts of North Mankato. Additional areas that are not serviced by fixed routes can also be added as the service demands and requests are realized.
The transit dispatchers will schedule the flex route rides in a similar way that the mobility rides are scheduled. Similar to the mobility bus, passengers will register at the time of their first ride request to determine if they indeed reside in the flex zone.
The initial hub locations for drop-offs are the Cherry Street Hub and the Mayo Health System/Mankato Clinic Campus on Marsh Street (for health care related trips). From these two hubs, the passenger can access all the routes of the fixed route system - including the Wickersham/OFC Clinics. Drivers will provide information to the passengers regarding the fixed routes at each location and during scheduling.
Because the passengers will pay a fare when accessing the fixed route system, there will be no passenger cost for using the Kato Flex during the pilot period of June 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019. For the pilot period of June 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019 the operating cost is projected to be $105,485. Grant funding will pay 100% of the cost through June 30. From July 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019 Grant funding will pay for 90%. It is expected that the local share for the seven month pilot would be $9,042, which can be covered by city reserves.
Staff will continue to refine the service plan in the next two weeks along with our service partners, North Mankato and VINE, and also work on a communication plan to promote the service.
It should be noted that an outcome of the pilot program may be to extend fixed routes into the flex zones. If ridership in a flex zone reaches certain levels, it then becomes more cost effective to adjust an existing fixed route to provide the service.
Prior to 2003 youth, 17-18 years old (high school students) and younger, could ride the transit system for free. As part of addressing all transit fares, this free service was discontinued in 2003 and youth are now charged $.50 - provided they have a mass transit card (pre-approved). To address the issue of declining ridership, the strategies in 2003 focused on increasing fares for all users and route contraction due to falling ridership. It was suggested that eliminating the free youth service would increase revenue, which it did not since youth ridership signficinatly declined after the fee was implemented. Since 2012, overall ridership has increased due to route efficiency and strategic expansion suggested by the 2012 redesign project and the 2018 TDP. However, youth ridership still lags compared to other demographics.
Part of the transit redesign of 2012 and recent engagement process for 2018 Transit Development Plan (TDP) suggested that free service for youth should be reconsidered since in effect it is cost neutral (the buses are already running and it does not result in new or adjusted routes) and that it introduces youth to a transit system. Providing free service may also offer youth opportunities to access summer recreational and employment opportunities. Therefore, a pilot program offering free transit rides for youth will also be introduced the first week of June. The pilot will run for the summer months during which Fall service options will be evaluated with the School District, Community Recreations and other organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club and YMCA. The TDP engagement found that extra trips before and after school would be beneficial to youth.
High school students in both public and private schools are issued a school identification which can be used to confirm eligibility.
Another service adjustment that was part of the Transit Development Plan (TDP) was expanded evening service. Currently, the fixed route system, besides the MSU Campus Routes, cease between 5:30 pm and 6:00 pm. One of the top requests and issues identified during the TDP process was the lack of service in the mid to late evening hours (7 pm to 9 pm). As part of the upcoming budget process, staff will evaluate and present options for expanding evening service. While grant funding will cover between 80 and 90% of the operating costs, there is still a budgetary impact with the local share.