Council seeks flexible shuttle service
The Port Aransas City Council is hoping to fire up the ferry shuttle again this summer even though city staff has recommended scuttling the service due to a lack of riders last summer.
The Regional Transportation Authority began the shuttle service as an experiment in 2007 to let commuters park in the Texas Department of Transportation park-andwalk lots on Harbor Island, ride the ferries as pedestrians and then take the shuttle to work in Port Aransas. The shuttle ran every day. The RTA found some interest in the service, though interest waned as the experiment drew to a close.
In 2008, the bus operated Thursday through Sunday only, but use of the shuttle remained low.
Because of the lack of riders, the city and RTA staff recommended this year that the city council agree to drop the service. But, at a special meeting on Monday, April 27, the council voted unanimously to ask City Manager Michael Kovacs to see if he could find a way to keep the service going.
City Councilman Keith McMullin said the city should take advantage of the fact that a federal grant is providing money for this for another summer, and so staff for the city and RTA should try to find a way to increase the number of riders on the shuttle.
Kovacs said he would like to keep the shuttle going if the RTA would change the way it runs the service. In the past, the shuttle has run on a fixed route. Kovacs said it would be more efficient if the service operates more like an airport shuttle that goes wherever passengers tell it to go. That way, passengers don't have to wait through an entire route to get to their workplaces, Kovacs said.
Kovacs said the RTA probably won't agree to operate like an airport shuttle.
"I think they're very regimented," Kovacs told the council. "They love routes, making sure the bus is at a certain place at a certain time."
But, on a motion by McMullin, the council instructed Kovacs to discontinue the program only if he is unable to work out an agreement with the RTA to make the service more like an airport shuttle, without a fixed route.
Last year, the shuttle carried 63 riders in June and 91 in July, according to figures provided by Port Aransas City Hall. Some of the shuttle riders were tourists, not workers, especially around the July 4 holiday, said Pat Garrett, executive assistant at city hall.
No one rode the shuttle at all some days, Garrett said.
In August, only 43 riders took the ferry shuttle. But that number doesn't mean even as many as 43 different people necessarily rode the shuttle.
Riders were counted every time they got on the bus, so a person who rode the bus from the ferry to work and back five days a week would have been counted as 10 riders in the monthly counts.
The service was free at first, then began charging 25 cents per ride.
Garrett said she believes the service wasn't very popular because the ferry system did an adequate job of getting them across the channel in a timely way. Bottom line: If the ferry line wasn't too long, workers preferred to go across in their own cars.
Canceling the ferry shuttle will allow the RTA to redirect grant money to another kind of transportation service, Garrett said.
The RTA continues to operate the Port Aransas Trolley, which carries people around town on a daily basis at a quarter per ride. The RTA also still operates the Flexi-B, an on-call service that picks up riders at their Port Aransas homes and takes them to Corpus Christi for $1.25 per trip.