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Orange County Public Transportation to offer new on-demand service pilot program


A new Mobility On Demand pilot service will offer on-demand transportation services outside of routine hours beginning March 5, Orange County Public Transportation announced.

The six-month pilot program will service people within Hillsborough and the Eubanks Park and Ride in Chapel Hill. The service can be requested through the TransLoc mobile app, the Orange County Public Transportation website or by calling (919) 245-2008. 

The program will be offered Fridays from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., for $5 per trip. The first 30 days of the pilot program will be fare-free, with the fare being phased in afterward.

Theo Letman, director of Orange County Transportation Services, said creating the program was a response to riders’ requests. 

“We have done many public participation meetings and surveys,” Letman said. “One of the common threads is folks would like to have more service later in the evening, as well as on the weekend.”

Currently, the Orange County Public Transportation operates on a limited number of fixed routes and on-demand services Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

“Our on-demand service is predominantly Medicaid service and paratransit,” Letman said. “We think we were missing that choice rider, someone who is more used to metropolitan areas and would like the benefits of an Uber/Lyft type services.”

Similar to these independent services, people can access Mobility On Demand services by request. Brandi Beeker, the program coordinator for Orange County Commuter Options, said Mobility On Demand differs from the services because the drivers are trained Orange County employees, not independent contractors. 

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She said drivers will use regularly maintained, county-owned vehicles, which will be sanitized the same as Orange County Public Transportation buses. 

Due to COVID-19, Orange County Public Transportation has implemented precautions into the Mobility On Demand service for its drivers’ and passengers’ safety. Beeker said the program will be touchless. 

Cash will not be accepted, and fees should be paid in advance, either by phone, app or website. Passengers are expected to maintain the state-mandated social distancing laws and wear a mask with two layers. Riders can bring one additional person at no additional cost, but Beeker said it would preferably be someone with whom they have already been in close contact, such as a household member. 

“We are going to wipe down all the surfaces that are high touch surfaces between clients and make sure the vehicles are sanitized frequently,” Beeker said. “We are also screening our drivers, so people aren’t coming to work when they are sick.”

Orange County Public Transportation is working with TransLoc, a locally based technology firm that is part of the Ford Mobility Company. Alex McTighe, the manager of insider sales at TransLoc, said it hopes this service will create more effective and efficient transportation. 

McTighe said Mobility On Demand is signaling the county’s commitment to adapt to the evolving needs in the community.

“They are trying to provide safe and equitable access to transit for their residents and students in the area,” McTighe said.

The TransLoc app is available in English, Spanish and simplified Chinese, and plans to add other languages in the future. 

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Letman said Orange County Public Transportation eventually would like to expand this program to provide its service in other parts of the county. 

“The initial part of the project is a pilot — this is just to generate interest and gauge interest for the service,” Letman said. “We think this will give us a good setup to expand in services.”

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com 

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