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Regional Partnership Helps Toledo Transit Launch On-Demand Service

The Toledo Area Regional Transportation Authority’s membership in NEORide, a regional transit collective, allowed it to more easily take on service and technology improvements like the newly launched TARTA Flex.

Small transit agencies are banding together to form regional organizations; the result is more efficient procurements and improved technology development.

NEORide — a consortium of 24 transit agencies operating in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, West Virginia and Arkansas — is one such organization. “One of the things we have focused heavily on is bringing together public transit agencies to work collectively on a regional basis,” said Katherine Conrad, director of NEORide.

“This way, we can leverage our collective knowledge and buying power to improve public transit for all our passengers,” she added.

Being part of NEORide is part of what made it easier for the Toledo Area Regional Transportation Authority (TARTA) to launch an on-demand transit service, to be operated by Via.

“With this being a new service and something TARTA had not yet tried, having the experience of partners who have been a part of similar processes elsewhere made the transition exponentially easier,” said Andy Cole, communications and marketing manager for TARTA.

The TARTA on-demand service — known as TARTA Flex — provides rides for $3 each way within three travel zones, using eight TARTA-owned vans. The Flex service is intended to fill in transit access in areas not reached by TARTA’s fixed-route service. Customers are able to transfer to another zone at a connection point for another $3, or receive a free transfer to TARTA’s fixed-route services, Cole explained.

“Both NEORide and Via worked hard to make sure their technology fit seamlessly with our own, and went the extra mile to help secure a smooth transition,” he added.

The project was one example of a joint procurement benefiting a larger group of members, Conrad said. The pricing from Via was substantially more competitive than any single agency would receive, and members could share insights on how to better utilize the service through best practices.

Via’s technology is able to place riders headed in the same direction in the same vehicle.

“Via and NEORide share a vision that technology is the key to catalyzing equitable transportation for communities of all sizes,” said Laney Cloud, central regional lead at Via, in a statement.

Another example of a service and technology project led by NEORide is the EZFare program, a contactless fare payment system, launched in 2019 and now covering 15 transit systems across the region. EZFare also integrates with popular national transportation platforms like the Transit app, Uber and Moovit, allowing riders to pay for their trips on these familiar and ubiquitous platforms.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.