Shuttling workers to, from ferry deliberated
Would a shuttle that picks up employees at the ferry landing and takes them to their workplaces work in Port Aransas?
Planning and zoning commissioners heard the concept from Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) operations director David Siler on Tuesday, and they voted unanimously in favor of the idea. But they still have serious questions about how it might work.
As Siler proposed it, the concept would put two vans in service in Port Aransas, running from the ferry landing along Cotter Avenue to Station Street, then back to Cotter, then south on Alister Street about to Avenue G, and from there south on 11th Street to Beach Access Road 1A, then south on State Hwy. 361 as far as necessary.
Siler said each van could make the trip in an hour, so if they alternate, it should mean a van at the ferry landing every 30 minutes.
He wants to start a trial run of the shuttle this summer - perhaps as early as mid-July - to see how it's received. The shuttle would be idle over the winter months, starting again for Spring Break and continuing through summer of 2008. That should give RTA and the city an idea of how well the shuttle is received, and give both agencies a chance to tweak schedules and other parts of the project.
The shuttle would be in addition to the existing Port Aransas Trolley and the Flexi-B service, both provided by RTA. The trolley makes a 21 ½-mile circuit through the city, taking an hour per run, for a 25-cent fare. The Flexi-B takes riders from Port Aransas to Corpus Christi on a flexible schedule at a cost of $1.25.
Siler foresaw the trial run of the employer shuttle being free, but he told the commission, "I should also mention the dreaded F-word - fares." Siler said the RTA board of directors would probably want to charge a 25-cent fee for it also.
The whole thing is designed to get workers who don't live in Port Aransas from the ferry to work on time and at a reasonable cost.
"As property (prices) go up (in Port Aransas), the ability of someone to live here and work at an hourly job diminishes," said former Mayor Glenn Martin, now a member of the RTA board.
Chamber of Commerce-Tourist Bureau executive director Ann Bracher Vaughan agreed.
"I hope you will encourage the business community to get excited about this, " she said. "I hear all the time how we need affordable housing, but I'm about convinced we're not going to have it."
Siler said he brought the concept to the planning and zoning commission for its approval and will take it to the city council next. That could be as soon as a goals workshop scheduled for Wednesday, said City Manager Michael Kovacs.
"We're just waiting on Port Aransas approval," Siler said.
He got planning and zoning approval, but there are still unanswered questions in commissioners' minds.
+ Commissioner Ed Buskey: "Why isn't MSI (The University of Texas at Austin Marine Science Institute) on the route?"
(Vaughan: "I have questions myself: Is it going to be available to anybody who wants to ride? I'd like to get all major employers together to brainstorm about it.")
+ Commissioner Hugh Lancaster: "Why only during the summer time?"
(Commissioner Linda Zahn: "Our seasonal employee group grows significantly during the summer time.")
+ Commissioner Bruce Clark: "The timing (of the schedule) also needs to be adjusted for when people get on and off work."
(Siler: "More agencies are using what they call route deviations based on demand. There's one where people can actually call the bus operator by cell phone and the operator makes a decision on when he can be there. We wouldn't be opposed to doing something like that.")
+ Clark: "Couldn't we go without a fare?"
(Siler: "We'd have to have board approval. It could be anything up to 25 cents.")
+ Commissioner Betsy Churgai: "Lots of people ride bikes across the ferry. Could we carry bikes (on the vans)?"
(Siler: "We couldn't do it on the back because there's an emergency door there, but we might be able to do it on the front.")
+ Lancaster: "Are passes possible? That way you wouldn't have to make change."
(Siler: "Yes." He added, "We're going into this year with a certain amount of trial and error, making it as flexible as possible and seeing if it works.")
Councilman Mike Hall, who attended the meeting, said he's "very much in favor" of the idea, though he said there are other issues.
"Frequency is a potential problem, because if you get off the ferry and miss the bus, you're not going to stand around for an hour and wait for another bus," he said.
"We also have waterfront businesses that need a 4 a.m. schedule and we have bars that may need a 2 a.m. schedule."
Another problem, Martin said, is getting workers who live in Aransas Pass or Ingleside to work here. Those cities aren't members of RTA, he said, so they're not in the transit authority's service area.
Siler and Vaughan agreed that a key to the concept is making potential riders aware of it.
"It's very important to market it, to get it in front of the public so they know what it's for," Siler said. He said the RTA would depend on the city to provide publicity for the program.
"Success is dependent on how important the business community feels it is to them," Vaughan said. But she pledged that the Chamber of Commerce would do everything it could to let people know about the program.
"This looks like a win-win situation," Martin said.