'Flex service' buses to operate like taxis

Similar arrangements have worked well in Des Moines, Dallas

By Tim Hrenchir, KHI News Service, April 28, 2015

Metro Flex Zone Map

A map of where the new flex service will be offered.

Some Topeka buses will operate more like taxis for a new service that will hit the road this summer.

Topeka Metro, the city’s mass transit provider, plans to offer the “flex service” beginning Aug. 3.

The Topeka Metropolitan Transit Authority voted this past week to approve an update of the Topeka Metro service plan, which includes implementing the flex service.

That service — initially, at least — will be offered only in a “flex zone” located in East and southeast Topeka. The zone covers most parts of Topeka located both south of S.E. 10th Street and east of S.E. California.

The flex service will enable people in that area who telephone Topeka Transit at least three hours in advance to have a small bus — of the type capable of carrying 10 or 12 riders — come pick them up at the curb.

For $2, those passengers then will be able to ride anywhere else in the flex zone. Or they could take the bus to the Walmart Supercenter at 2630 S.E. California, a Topeka Metro anchor location, where they will be able to board a fixed-route bus at no extra cost.

Similar flex zone arrangements have worked well in Dallas and Des Moines, Iowa, said Ronnie Murphy, director of marketing and communication for Topeka Metro, the city’s mass transit service.

Murphy said implementing the flex service is part of an effort to make Topeka Metro better, safer and more user-friendly.

The plan also is targeted at achieving a 10-percent increase in ridership in one year.

Topeka Metro will implement other steps that include providing a new Saturday service to the Oakland community beginning May 2 and offering straighter routes in west Topeka beginning Aug. 3 — the same day the flex service kicks off.

The changes will require no increase in Topeka Metro’s fares or its property tax mill levy because they can be implemented and sustained within its existing budget, said Topeka Metro executive director Susan Duffy.

She said this past week’s TMTA vote culminated an 18-month process that included a demographic analysis, a survey of Topeka Transit passengers and 15 public meetings — including four focused specifically on the service plan update.

The data-driven process enabled Topeka Metro to better determine where people were and weren’t boarding its buses, Duffy said.

Murphy said information gleaned from the process prompted Topeka Metro to decide to eliminate — for lack of ridership — a route that currently goes as far east as S.E. Croco Road.

Still, Topeka Metro officials want to effectively serve low-density population areas on the city’s east side. They hope the flex service will help accomplish that.

Topeka Metro plans this summer to work to educate riders and potential new customers about the flex service and its other changes, Duffy said.

Tim Hrenchir can be reached at (785) 295-1184 or tim.hrenchir@cjonline.com.
Follow Tim on Twitter @timhrenchir.


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