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Ben Franklin Transit has a $1.2M plan for stranded customers

Ben Franklin Transit will extend bus hours and its general-demand service to reach customers stranded after Tri-Cities Taxi shut down.
Ben Franklin Transit will extend bus hours and its general-demand service to reach customers stranded after Tri-Cities Taxi shut down.

Ben Franklin Transit will reinstate two of the three after-hours services it suspended in October after a contractor unexpectedly went out of business.

At a special session Monday, the Ben Franklin board agreed to reinstate its taxi-feeder service with an on-demand Dial-A-Ride system.

It also voted to beef up evening service by extending operating hours for many, though not all, regular bus runs. Affected buses will operate until 10 p.m.

Both solutions are considered temporary. It will take months to work out the logistics, including hiring staff to cover the added hours.

Ben Franklin estimates the net added cost will be about $1.2 million, which it will pay with current operating reserves.

There is no current plan to restore Sunday services.

While it presses ahead with stop-gap measures, Ben Franklin Transit is looking for one or more new contractors to fill the role left by A1 Tri-Cities Taxi.

The Richland-based taxi company closed with little warning at Halloween. Ben Franklin Transit had cut its contract in January by about $1 million. The taxi company’s shutdown forced the transit agency to suspend taxi feeder, night service and Sunday service.

The move affected 134 passengers who used the services on weekdays and 360 who relied on it on weekends.

Collectively, the services provided nearly 54,000 total rides per year.

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Ben Franklin Transit will reinstate two of the three after-hours services it suspended in October after a contractor unexpectedly went out of business. File Tri-City Herald

It costs the transit agency nearly $20 per boarding for the taxi-feeder service and $24 for night and Sunday service, under the past contract. The current plan will cost more per boarding.

The off-hours services helped the agency fulfill its mission of serving tax-paying customers who live or work outside its normal service zones and hours. Often transit agency’s customers are disabled, lower income or unable to drive.

Taxi feeder service

Ben Franklin Transit will roll out “general-demand” Dial-A-Ride service to Finley in January.

Typically Dial-A-Ride serves the elderly and disabled but general demand will provide the service to anyone in the service area.

The incorporated Finley area east of Kennewick accounts for 48 percent of passengers. Taxi feeder service connects rural residents with regular transit stops and other destinations.

It will roll out general-demand Dial-A-Ride service to Kennewick, Pasco, Richland and West Richland a month later.

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Ben Franklin Transit agreed Monday to reinstate its taxi-feeder service with an on-demand Dial-A-Ride system. File Tri-City Herald

That addition should have no fiscal impact thanks to an agreement with The Arc of the Tri-Cities. The Arc contracts to provide transportation services to people with disabilities.

Last week, it expanded evening hours to cover the night gap and is transporting riders who had been using the taxi feeder service.

Night service

Many but not all bus routes will add two hours of operating time in March, extending service hours until 10 p.m. weekdays and 9 p.m. on Saturdays.

Dial-A-Ride service will be extended two hours as well, as required by federal law.

Sunday service

There is no current plan to restore on-demand Sunday service.

When it meets Dec. 13, the board will discuss providing retired vans to nonprofit groups.

The nonprofits would then own and operate the vans. In theory a church could acquire a van to use to transport members for church services.

Watch for updates at bft.org/service-disruption-update/

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514
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