Kansas City area workers will have a new transportation option when it comes to their commutes beginning early next month.
The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority announced Wednesday that it has entered into a pilot project with Bridj of Boston and Ford Motor Co. to provide an on-demand shuttle service.
The system, called Ride KC: Bridj, will rely on Bridj’s mobile app and Ford Transit passenger vans to connect housing-rich areas of Kansas City with areas rich in jobs and other services.
It is scheduled to launch in early March. Riders will use an app on their cellphones to request rides.
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“We are bringing another transit option to the region with the introduction of microtransit,” said Robbie Makinen, president and chief executive of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority.
The hours of operation will be from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The service is not limited to commuters. People can use the service for such things as getting to doctor appointments and grocery shopping, Makinen said.
The one-year pilot project will initially include downtown Kansas City, the near east and west sides, Hospital Hill, Crown Center, portions of midtown, the University of Kansas Medical Center and the 18th and Vine Jazz District.
There will be an introductory fare of $1.50 for each ride, Makinen said.
Kansas City is the first public and private collaboration that brings together a major transit system, an automaker and a technology company to enhance an existing mass transit system.
“Kansas City is really sort of a hotbed of trying real significant innovation — not just the fluffy stuff, but the real stuff,” said Matt George, chief executive of Bridj.
People living in the coverage areas who want to schedule a ride would use their mobile phones and indicate their trip within the service area.
They then will be directed to a pickup area within a five- to 10-minute walk. A Bridj van will pick them up and drop them off within a five- or 10-minute walk of their destination.
“Imagine a bus catching a passenger rather than a passenger catching a bus,” George said.
The system will use 10 Ford Transit passenger vans built at the Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo. The fleet of high-roof, long-wheelbase vans will be configured with 14 passenger seats and have a custom running board for convenience.
“Ford has announced that it is transforming itself into not just an automotive company, but an auto and mobility company with the goal of making people’s lives better by changing how the world moves,” said Tony Reinhart, Ford’s regional director for government and community relations.
“We are trying to specifically develop a number of things, but in particular smart mobility services. This project gives us that opportunity. It’s going to be a yearlong pilot, so it’s going to help us gain insights to what works and what doesn’t.”
In other transit news, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2017 budget includes $30 million for construction of the Prospect MAX bus rapid transit project.
The $30 million is what the KCATA had asked for to build the system from downtown along Prospect to 75th Street in the next few years.
Just having it in Obama’s budget request doesn’t mean the funding is guaranteed, but now it can go through the appropriations process, and KCATA officials say Rep. Emanuel Cleaver and Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill are very supportive.
The Star’s Lynn Horsley contributed to this report.