The HOP transportation system looks to expand to microtransit locally
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The Hill Country Transit District, which operates the HOP public transportation around Copperas Cove and the surrounding area, made a presentation recently to the Copperas Cove city council and requested a general fund contribution to help fund its services in the Copperas Cove area.
Raymond Suarez, representing the Hill Country Transit District, shared that the request this year was actually lower than what had been submitted originally and that was attached to the meeting agenda.
Instead of the more than $131,000, Suarez said that the HCTD was requesting $94,463.
“This funding will allow us to implement a transformative approach to mobility for the citizens of Copperas Cove and to improve the quality of life for everyone that needs to get around your city,” Suarez said.
Suarez pointed out that the HCTD has seen a “significant reduction” in ridership, predominantly because of COVID-19, as well as the introduction of Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and others.
He mentioned that the funding request earlier for $131,000 included the concept of a commuter service that would connect all five cities, running optimally at 30-minute headways, but due to financial constraints of some of the cities, the HCTD decided to go back to the drawing board and settled on hourly service or headways, with the possibility of progressing into the 30-minute headway in the future.
He added that the HCTD is proposing three vehicles for Copperas Cove for the micro-transit service.
Comparatively, the city of Killeen would have 15 vehicles spread out over four areas: Killeen Northeast, Killeen Northwest, Killeen Southeast and Killeen Southwest. Harker Heights would have three buses as well.
Copperas Cove would have two vehicles for the northern side and one for the southern side.
The HCTD is also planning to allocate additional funds for a TNC service, which is similar to Uber and Lyft that would allow HCTD to manage some overflow should wait times start to increase.
The vehicles will be mini-vans and roughly 12-passenger vans, all with wheelchair equipped ramps or lifts.
“We’ve, to the best of our ability, maximized the service approach and provide some flexibility for how we deliver that service,” Suarez said. “It’ll improve the maneuverability. It’ll increase the speed because these vehicles are not going to be stopping in the middle of traffic and causing congestion and will also hopefully have less impact on your roads, so we’re really excited about the service.”
As a rideshare service under the Hill Country Transit District, it will also qualify for and still receive federal and state funds, and all drivers will be trained in ADA, non-emergency medical transport and will be drug and alcohol tested.
This on-demand micro-transit service comes with an app for users or a 1-800 number that users can dial to schedule a trip.
“We feel like this will serve your community extremely well,” Suarez said. “Once we deploy the system, we’ll start getting very rich data about how people are using the system, where they’re going. We will generate heat maps. We will generate literally day by day and time of day statistics so we’ll know if we’re oversubscribed in areas, where it would suggest that we need to fix route, to add back a fixed route. We would do that, but we’d know exactly where and at what time of days we can do that.”
Suarez said that once this service is deployed, the HCTD believes that ridership will at least double due to the accessibility of the system.
Current ridership is around 18,000, and with the existing commuter service of 6,600, it rises to roughly 25,000 riders. The HCTD projects that they will cover 50,000 riders.
Suarez ended his presentation with a slide showing how much the requests were to the other cities of Belton, Harker Heights, Killeen and Temple.
The funding request for Killeen is $650,000. The funding request for Temple is $308,937. For Belton, the request is $55,373, and for Harker Heights, it is $82,592. Altogether, with Copperas Cove’s request, the total local match requests add up to $1.19 million.
Suarez explained that due to the federal and state funding allocations, the city of Copperas Cove would actually be receiving a value of $751,109 worth of service.
City Manager Ryan Haverlah said that, having been involved and engaged with the Hill Country Transit District team, he felt they have done a phenomenal job compared to many years prior, “when this governing body questioned the value that our community was receiving from the HOP,” what with the amount going down with an improvement in service.
“In addition to that, I have been rather critical in meeting with the staff for the HOP asking questions about service because that’s what you as the City Council expects for our community, and they have become significantly more transparent than in past administrations, detailing how the funding request has been calculated,” Haverlah said. “It’s just my opinion based on past activities and current efforts that this is not only the most transparent that the HOP has been, but it is also a significant change in service to improve service to our residents.”
When it came time to give direction to Haverlah regarding whether to fund the HOP’s request, he first advised council members to be aware that should they want to make the funding a priority in the budget, they should allow city staff to wait until they receive the certified property tax values expected to come out in mid-July, before beginning discussions regarding changes or revisions to the proposed budget.
Councilmember Fred Chavez led the charge in providing direction to the city manager about moving forward with looking into funding the Hill Country Transit District’s request for the HOP.
“I’m inclined to do that because I really am in support of the HOP’s efforts and what they’re trying to do leaning into new technologies and a new methodology in order to meet the demand,” Chavez said. “Work is changing. Society is changing. We’ve got to find better ways to get across what we need to get across. Specifically in this case, it’s getting people to work, getting people to hospital appointments and the like. I think this model, which has been working in other places, will work here.”
Chavez later said that he thinks that this is something of value that the City needs to support.
“I think this is something that is going to be a direct impact to a good chunk of our citizenry, and so I’m inclined to support this for funding,” he said.