Rock Region METRO, on behalf of the City of Conway, will launch the METRO Connect Conway public microtransit service zone Monday, Oct. 24. The service, which will operate Monday-Saturday, 6 a.m.-8 p.m., is the first modern-day public transit service offered in Conway. METRO Connect Conway service offers on-demand, point-to-point trips within the city with an easy-to-use ride-booking interface, real-time vehicle information, reasonable wait and travel times, and affordable fares.
“After a lot of hard work and planning, we are thrilled to be offering this service to Conway residents,” said Mayor Bart Castleberry. “Employing microtransit service, which is a relatively low-cost transit service, allows us to maximize federal funding to improve mobility options for all of our residents, helping to connect them to health appointments, educational opportunities, jobs and more.”
METRO Connect Conway offers shared rides throughout the planned service zone, which covers most areas within the Conway city limits and was designed with input from city staff; various data sources and metrics, such as Traffic Analysis Zones, population density, employment density and land use zones; and feedback from local representatives within the health, education, employment and social services sectors. METRO’s professional transportation planning firm, Foursquare ITP, lead the service planning task for the agency.
The service will operate with two vehicles in circulation during service hours, supported by a dedicated supervisor and dispatcher and multiple drivers, as well as the METRO operations, customer service, maintenance, accounting, public engagement, human resources, safety, information technology and legal teams. The service is designed to accommodate up to 100 passenger trips per day and can be adjusted as demand changes. Initial service vehicles are 2022 Lonestar Promaster 3500s that are accessible, low-floor transit vehicles. The vans have manual, fold-out wheelchair ramps and can accommodate up to seven riders. Once the service is launched, METRO Connect Conway rides may be booked using a smartphone app, the free Transloc Microtransit App, or by using a dial-in phone number. METRO Connect Conway fares are $2 per person per trip and may be paid via the free Token Transit app or exact change.
METRO has operated microtransit service for more than three years, beginning with the Little Rock METRO Connect John Barrow Road Zone in August 2019. The service engages a somewhat familiar ride-hailing, ride-sharing service similar to but not the same as those operated by transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft. Unlike TNCs, public microtransit service offers shared rides, a dedicated fleet and predictable fares. The service, which is ideal for areas of emerging or low transit demand and lower density, offers more coverage than fixed route bus service and is more immediate and responsive than traditional dial-a-ride service.
Conway surpassed a population of 50,000 residents in the last several years, spawning the creation of its own Urbanized Area as determined by the U.S. Census; this change made the City eligible for federal public transit funding. In February 2018, the Conway City Council approved a resolution that named METRO the direct recipient of its Federal Transit Administration Urbanized Area Formula Program funds, referred to as 5307 funds. Through this agreement, METRO operates public transit within the City using funds that remain with METRO for use but are earmarked for Conway transit service and transit-oriented projects. The partnership utilizes METRO’s experience as the state’s largest public transit agency and allows Conway the opportunity to launch a new mobility-oriented public service for its residents and guests.
“We are very excited to be launching Conway’s public transit service and help the city meet the needs of its growing population. This microtransit service launch not only complements Conway’s green initiatives but also lays the foundation for the region’s multi-modal connectivity needs,” said Justin Avery, METRO chief executive officer.