Job hunters in Fort Worth will soon have an easier time connecting with the more than 18,000 positions in Mercantile Center.
The Fort Worth city council Tuesday committed $500,000 to an on-demand ride share pilot program with Trinity Metro designed to connect TEXRail riders with employers in the Mercantile Center distribution/office park area. Beginning between July and August, riders of either TEXRail or the bus can get off at the Mercantile stop and use a smart phone app to hail a Via car to take them to work.
Trinity Metro has dubbed the on-demand system ZIPZONE and rides will initially cost $3, plus the $2.50 train ticket. Bob Baulsir, metro president, said possible private funding may cut that cost to $1 per ride. The city’s money, plus another $500,000 from Trinity Metro, will fund the program for at least a year while transit officials determine ridership and costs.
The city and metro estimate there are at least 18,000 jobs and about 200 openings currently in the roughly 5-mile radius of the ZIPZONE pilot program.
“This does further open the door for job candidates who would otherwise find a bus or car inconvenient to get here,” said Brian Randolph, president of Mercantile Partners. “We’re looking forward to getting our area covered.”
Unlike other ride hailing services like Lyft or Uber, the Via Mercedes vans will be branded with the Trinity Metro ZIPZONE logo. The vans can fit up to five passengers, so riders often won’t be alone. One van will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities ACT.
Baulsir said the metro would like to see an average of 3.5 riders per hour.
If the program is successful, both the city and Trinity Metro said they want to expand it to other parts of Fort Worth, but specific locations have not been chosen. On-demand style services are best used in areas where the density of riders wouldn’t normally support a fixed route bus, Chad Edwards, the city’s mobility officer, said.
Edwards said the average wait time will likely be around 8 minutes, but more Via cars may be added if the demand is great.
The program aims to bridge the gap between existing transit stops and people’s neighborhoods, often called the “first mile/last mile.”
The city allocated additional funds in this year’s budget specifically for new transit solutions. Mayor Betsy Price said she sees on-demand service as an asset for people who can’t normally drive to work or get to a metro stop. She speculated the AllianceTexas area and the new Tarleton State University campus in southwest Fort Worth, where some hope TEXRail will one day stop, could benefit from on-demand connections to Trinity Metro.
“I think this is really the beginning of getting innovative and connecting people,” Price said.
On-demand services have been successful in Tarrant County.
A pilot program with Toyota and AllianceTexas for on-demand service around the sprawling Hillwood development ended in January, but a partnership with Denton County Transportation Authority has allowed it to continue. Riders can connect with the North Texas Xpress that operates between downtown Fort Worth, Alliance and Denton.
In Arlington, the nation’s largest city without mass transit, a Via-based program has been declared a success. In February, Arlington said there had been more than 113,000 rides since the service began in December 2017.
Those who commute to Mercantile Center for work won’t be the only ones who benefit from the ZIPZONE, Baulsir said.
Anyone who lives in the ZIPZONE area can use the app to connect to TEXRail for trips to downtown Fort Worth, Grapevine or DFW Airport. With new tax incentives for residential and commercial development near rail stops, he said the number of people commuting by choice will grow.
“There are going to be times, I think, that all of us are going to need that first mile/last mile connection,” he said.