A pilot program providing on-demand ridesharing for transit riders in East St. Louis is set to launch in November.
The St. Clair County Transit District announced the six-month pilot program that stems from a partnership with TransLoc, a transit company owned by Ford, and Southwestern Illinois College.
The $25,000 pilot program will be app-based and will provide a “curb-to-transit” micro-transit service called the SCCTD Flyer.
In essence, the program is much like Uber or Lyft, St. Clair County Transit District Managing Director Ken Sharkey said. A customer uses an app or schedules a ride and is picked up by an ATS vehicle. To save money, if another rider requests a ride on the same route or nearby, the vehicle will pick up another rider.
Flyer rides will be offered from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. five days a week starting Nov. 1.
Passengers will be able to request rides through TransLoc’s app or ATS Reservations by calling 618-800-6884 from anywhere within East St. Louis city limits. Customers without smartphones may request same-day rides by contacting ATS by phone to make a reservation.
Sharkey said the program is the result of the district’s ongoing study of its metro system and one of the many ways transit in the metro-east will be evolving in the coming months.
“This is a way to increase ridership for us,” he said. “People are looking for different options to get them to transit and this is a way for us to offer that.”
The service takes riders from their home to transit stations, or vise Versa, That includes four MetroLink stations at Fifth and Missouri, Emerson Park, Washington Park and the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center, as well as 11 connecting MetroBus routes.
Passengers can get rides to their homes, jobs or schools in East St. Louis from those stations by requesting a ride through the app, which gives riders an estimated pick-up time, tracks the current ride in real-time and alerts riders when drivers are about to arrive.
Similar programs have been launched in Kansas City, Missouri; Sacramento, California, and Arlington, Texas. Sharkey said those programs have allowed for more flexible services to meet community demands when a larger bus isn’t necessary.
Sharkey visited Kansas City to try out the city’s micro-transit system and was wowed by the results. He said it was a seamless process that got him everywhere he needed to go.
“After riding it for most of the day I thought to myself, ‘We can offer this in St. Clair County and maybe increase our ridership,’” Sharkey said.
Ride-sharing provides better options
Lonnie Mosely, a member of the SCCTD Board of Trustees, said the ride-sharing service provides riders with better options when safety is a concern and walking isn’t an option.
“This service will provide a great option for customers where walking is not an option due to inclement weather, darkness or safety to four MetroLink Stations and connecting MetroBus lines at those stations and is a better fit than a fixed route MetroBus line,” Mosely said.
Sharkey added that taking the train or bus can be difficult for some who are out running errands, such as getting groceries. He said this service will make that process easier for some.
He added that it’s hoped the service will help cut commute times for many riders.
One woman Sharkey spoke to on an SCCTD bus had a two-hour commute from her home in Alorton to her work in O’Fallon. He said commuters like that could use the service to cut that time down.
The program also is hoped to give the transit district a better idea of how to work in areas where there is smaller ridership.
“This pilot will provide SCCTD the opportunity to determine whether this type of demand response service is a better fit for smaller transit ridership markets while still providing access to residences, jobs, and school and the transit system,” Mosely said.
Sharkey said it’s early in the process, but the program could expand out to other areas with limited ridership. He said while large buses may not be needed on those routes, the Flyer program could be a good fit.
“This is the first step and we hope it’s going to be very successful and can be expanded,” he said.