Council OKs on-demand pilot program for transit

In an attempt to make it easier for residents and tourists to get around town and find parking — especially on the two busiest nights of the week — the Eureka Springs City Council unanimously approved a resolution for the transit department to begin an on-demand pilot program.

The program was announced by transit director Ken Smith at the council’s regular meeting on Monday, March 25, and is set to begin Friday, May 3.

“On demand is something the feds have come up with for transit agencies for situations just like this, where it’s not cost-effective to run full routes,” Smith told council members.

The system will be similar to using an Uber or taxi and is based in part on a successful system used by Ozark Regional Transit in Washington and Benton counties, Smith said.

“This will be mainly on Friday and Saturday nights to begin with,” Smith said. “From 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. We will look at that and if it needs to go a little later, we can go a little later.”

The service will help alleviate parking issues for employees of downtown businesses and for tourists, Smith said.

“Also, we’ve had many calls about people who want to ride the trolley to the Passion Play but because we don’t run that late, they’re stuck there,” Smith said.

The pilot program will involve rides anywhere within city limits and will require a call to the transit office to request the ride. The cost will be $6 per person per ride, Smith said, calling it a “premium service,” versus the fixed-route trolley system. There will only be one pickup per call.

“We’re not going to extend it outside the city limits,” he said. “If there is an employee who lives outside the city limits we ask them to park someplace on the edge of the city and we’ll then take them to their car.”

Payment will be required before the ride by paying the driver with cash or using a credit card, Smith said.

“All rides must be arranged by phone,” he said. “The driver will not be able to make any arrangements with the people on the bus.”

Reservations also will not be allowed, Smith said, adding the system will be on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“This is a pilot program,” he said. “If it is successful, we’ll expand it whether we go more nights or even during the day. We’ll have to look and see what we need being a tourist area. I don’t know if it’ll work that well during the day. We already have the trolleys and I don’t see needing having both.”

Two employees will be used for the pilot program, one as a driver and one taking calls at the transit office, Smith said.

“If this becomes a success and we begin to expand it, we’ll look into a [smart phone app],” Smith said. “Ozark Regional uses an an app and it takes care of everything and basically eliminates the person in the office.

“… The problem with the app, and it’s the cheapest one out there, is that it’s $600 per month per vehicle. So, we have to make this be a success in order to do this.”

Council member Autumn Slane, who helped spearhead discussions regarding a need for such a program because of parking availability issues downtown, thanked Smith and Mayor Butch Berry and said she feels the program will become popular.

“I cannot thank you and Mr. Mayor enough for this,” Slane said. “I know I’ve been hounding you and begging and harassing you nearly about it, but I think this is so important. If we can get the word out, I really think you’re going to see some great results.”

The pilot program will run through the end of October, Smith said, and will utilize two handicap-accessible vans and two small buses.

“This may cause some issues with people who [currently] provide the service, but if they provide the service, why are people coming to me for it?” he told council members. “That’s my thinking on it.

“We’ll do it Friday and Saturday and in October we’ll review it and then come to you and say it didn’t work and we’re not going to do it anymore or we want to expand it.”

OTHER COUNCIL BUSINESS In other new business, the council approved resolutions for temporary entertainment districts for two upcoming events.

One of the temporary districts will be for Spring Fling held at Pine Mountain Village off East Van Buren. The temporary entertainment district will run from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day from Thursday, April 18, through Sunday, April 21.

The second temporary entertainment district approved by the council will be part of the Eureka Springs Blues Party. The district will operate from 11 a..m. to 8 p.m. Friday, May 31, and Saturday, June 1, in downtown areas including businesses along parts of Spring Street, Main Street and Mountain Street.

Simon Wiley, city public works director, said there were no updates on the issues at the sewer treatment plant but progress is continuing on water leaks around the city.

Work continues on a leak near Inn of the Ozarks and Wiley said it should soon be completed.

Next priorities include work on a leak at the Transit Depot on Main Street next to city hall.

“It was leaking before, but it’s leaking again,” Wiley said. “So, I think what we’re going to do is replace that entire service line that was at the transit building and just deal with the whole thing in its entirety so we don’t have to deal with it again.”

The council also unanimously approved Mark Ingram’s appointment to a new term on the parks and recreation commission. Ingram is currently the commission’s chair.

In the council’s monthly budget workshop before the regular meeting, finance director Michael Akins broke down sales and use tax revenue the city received.

“This is the tax that was collected in November, remitted to the state in December and we received in January,” Akins said.

The city received $306,810.77, he said.

“Of that, $188,000 went int our general fund, $45,000 went into streets, $48,000 into parks and $25,000 into our bond payment reserve,” Akins said.

On a breakdown report, Akins told the council that of the tax revenue received in January, 15 percent was from food and beverage, 24 percent from lodging and 61 percent from other “miscellaneous businesses.”