During the June 6 Abilene Commission study session, Trell Grinter, transportation director for OCCK, Inc., gave a presentation on statistics and budget for general public transportation program in Abilene, future plan for other transportation and requested funds from the city for the program.

“I do not expect us to go from zero to hero in one meeting. I want to look at this and work with you guys on how we can piece together, phase this in over ‘x’ amount of time or whatever you are comfortable with so we can get there,” Grinter said.

Starting with statistics, the program had an average of 562 rides per month in 2021. The total number of rides in 2021 was 6,742. Grinter said the average and total numbers are almost the same values the program had in years before the COVID-19 pandemic occurred.

“2021 was a great year for us to learn about how to transport people on the other side of a pandemic,” Grinter said. “Rides were picking back up and people were feeling more comfortable getting out and going to socialize with people even though we were still masked up.”

So far this year, the average number of rides per month is 785. The total number of rides from January to May is 3,924. Grinter said her projected total for the year was 7,000.

“These drivers are hustling. Our dispatch team is killing it. I’m so proud of them,” Grinter said.

Grinter said the rider numbers increased after the mask mandate was no longer enforced.

As for the reasons why people are using the transportation, the highest percentage reason for riders is to go to work. The second highest reason is to go to medical services.

Grinter then went over the positive community impacts of a general public transportation program. The largest impact is job impact.

“That job impact: getting people there, making sure that they don’t feel stressed about ‘is my ride going to be here,’ ‘do I have a ride home,’ ‘is my ride going to show up to get me to work.’ Taking that stress away increases productivity at work and increases the opportunity for people to be better employees,” Grinter said.

Public transportation also increases local spending, Grinter said. For this year so far, for every $1 spent or invested on public transportation, $5 on average is spent in the community.

Last month, Grinter said the program began to offer free rides to and from Country Mart. Grinter said a statistic that has been discussed a lot is, since the beginning of 2022, the 622 rides to and from West Plaza’s Country Mart.

Grinter said the department of transportation has several plans for this year. OCCK is working to expand the KANcycle bikes with help from Blue Cross/Blue Shield. The bike-sharing program could possibly come to Abilene and will come to the commissioners’ attention “soon,” Grinter said. OCCK started KANcycle in 2019. Grinter said OCCK provided over a 1,000 rides in 2021.

Grinter said she is working on bringing back KanConnect, OCCK’s fixed regional route, this year. The previous route traveled back and forth from Abilene to Salina before being shut down due to a lack of funding and little ridership. Grinter said the plan is for KanConnect to have a new route that will connect Salina, Abilene and Junction City. Grinter also said all drivers must be certified to drive for this program.

Grinter then presented upgrades and improvements OCCK is looking into for the general public transportation program. They are looking at enhancing their software for all their services. New software may include onboard WiFi. The transportation program may also increase its availability, as they have heard requests to offer rides after 5 p.m. and on weekends. OCCK is also working on connecting its transportation programs with other transportation businesses such as taxis and Uber to offer “seamless transportation,” Grinter said.

Grinter then moved to the budget for the Abilene general public transportation on sheets she supplied to the commissioners and city staff and was included in the study session’s agenda. The program’s budget for the 2022-2023 fiscal year is $205,404. Grinter said 70 percent, $143,783, of the budget is covered by the Kansas Department of Transportation 5311 Grant. The grant provides funding to support transportation projects in rural and small urban areas with populations under 50,000, according to the department. The other 30 percent, $61,621, is covered by OCCK and local partners that match funds with OCCK.

Mayor Dee Marshall asked how the program’s fares factor into the budget. Grinter said the fares are calculated at the end of each month and used to decrease the total amount of the budget, making the amount the KDOT 5311 Grant and local partners cover less. The fares are also sometimes used to give a return payment to the local partners.

“We don’t always put in those fares at the beginning of the budget. We like to look at it from that realistic point of view so that we are prepared if half of our ridership decides that they don’t want to ride anymore, that we have that (preparation) in there,” Grinter said.

The fare to ride is $2 each way.

Trevor Witt, city commissioner, then asked whether the number of riders is consistent each month. Grinter said February always has a lower number of riders due to weather conditions. 2021 was a steady year. In 2022, every month, besides February, has seen a growth of around 50 new passengers.

In the agenda item document, funding will be decided by the commissioners in the future during the 2023 budgeting process. No decision will be made during the June 13 regular meeting.

 

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