Local

Restoring taxi, night and weekend transit services could cost millions

The Ben Franklin Transit transfer station in Kennewick’s Vista Field area. Ben Franklin Transit may not be able to restore taxi feeder, night or Sunday service until 2019 after a key contractor went out of business Oct. 31.
The Ben Franklin Transit transfer station in Kennewick’s Vista Field area. Ben Franklin Transit may not be able to restore taxi feeder, night or Sunday service until 2019 after a key contractor went out of business Oct. 31. Tri-City Herald

It will take months and millions to rebuild the off-hours services Ben Franklin Transit lost when a key contractor unexpectedly went out of business at Halloween.

That’s the blunt assessment from the regional transit agency as it works to replace the night, weekend and taxi feeder services formerly handled by A1 Tri-Cities Taxi.

Tri-Cities Taxi, based in Richland, closed with little notice or explanation, though Ben Franklin’s budget showed it had cut its budget for such services by $1 million in January.

The agency immediately suspended service, stranding the 134 passengers who used the services on weekdays and 360 others who relied on it on weekends, according to figures released Monday.

The services collectively provided 54,000 rides per year for passengers who need to get to school, work, church and other destinations after hours or from locales not served by regular bus service.

Ben Franklin notes the two remaining Mid-Columbia taxi companies have said they don’t have the capacity to fill the breach. It notes, hopefully, that Tri-Cities Taxi has not sold its fleet of cabs and other vehicles, raising the possibility the fleet could be pressed back into service.

One group is actually benefiting from the shut-down.

Ben Franklin restored a contract with The Arc of the Tri-Cities to extend its daytime transportation services for disabled clients to include evening programs, which had been cut.

Cindy O’Neill, executive director of ARC, said the loss of the night service last year was difficult on clients and the restoration has been a relief.

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Ben Franklin Transit may not be able to restore taxi feeder, night or Sunday service until 2019 under alternatives being considered Monday by the agency’s board File Tri-City Herald

Overall, Finley, the unincorporated area east of Kennewick, is the most affected by the shut down.

It accounts for 48 percent of all feeder system riders, followed by Pasco at 32 percent.

Finley riders use the system to get to school and to transit stops to catch other buses. Pasco residents typically use it to get to work at the Pasco Processing Center.

The Ben Franklin board planned to discuss various options to replace the lost service when it met at 5 p.m. Monday at 1000 Columbia Park Trail, Richland.

Taxi Feeder Service

Feeder service provides point-to-point transportation to customers who live outside of the “fixed route” system, connecting them to the nearest bus stop of transit center.

Service to Finley (Serves 26 riders on weekdays, eight on Saturdays)

  • General Demand Dial-A-Ride service. The on-demand program could begin on Jan. 2 and would operate six days a week with a dedicated vehicle. Added cost: $351,000.

  • Fixed route service with flexible stops and routes on weekdays coupled with general demand service on Saturdays. It could begin in March. Added cost: $361,000.

  • Fixed route service without flexible stops, coupled with general demand service to off-route stops and Saturday service. It could begin in March. Added cost: $264,000.

Service to Pasco, Kennewick, Richland, West Richland (Serves 38 riders weekdays)

  • An on-demand service could begin in February. It would have no fiscal impact if it is accompanied by an expansion of services provided by The ARC of the Tri-Cities. Arc contracts with Ben Franklin to use transit vans to transport people with disabilities to Columbia Industries, Goodwill, Elder Day Services and The Arc.

  • Pasco Vanpool upgrades to serve major employers such as Pasco Processing. Implementation time and cost weren’t available.

Sunday Service

Provides curb-to-curb service between 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Serves 280 each day.)

  • Van-Me-Down: The program could sell surplus vans to qualified nonprofits such as churches so they can provide transportation largely independent of Ben Franklin.

  • Vanpool: The workplace-focused network would be expanded.

  • Group Trips: Community van would expand to cover more ground.

Night Service

Provides curb-to-curb service from 8:30 p.m. to midnight, Mondays to Saturdays. (Serves 80 per day.)

  • Extend current bus and Dial A Ride hours by two hours a day, to 10 p.m. on weekdays and to 9 p.m. on Saturdays, starting in phases in 2019. Change in annual costs: $2.86 million.

  • Extend hours on some fixed route buses and Dial A Ride starting in March. Added cost: $1.53 million.

  • Add night service on buses that operate on flexible routes starting in March. Added cost: $830,600.
Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514
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