TX: EZ Rider to do Route Study

Jan. 30--Transportation is clearly an issue for everyone in the Permian Basin, public transportation not excepted.

EZ Rider General Manager Robert Stephens said all public transit agencies are subjected to changes and growth over the life of the agency, but even more so in Midland/Odessa.

In order to change to reflect the growth in the area, Stephens said it's about time for operational and route studies that can help bring the agency up to speed.

"Here, I think it's of paramount importance because the system was put in place years ago and we really haven't made any adjustments," Stephens said. "We're hoping in the next few months we can get started."

Stephens said during those next few months they will do an internal comprehensive operational analysis of EZ Rider and possibly have a third party contracted for a route study, something he said is common for a transit company. A possible third-party study would be sent out for bids.

As the population has grown and shifted, Stephens said it's possible some routes have outgrown their uses and could be demoted to demand-based pickups or even no route at all.

The point is, Stephens said, he wants to bring the buses to the people and have the ability to take them where they want to go.

"That's essentially what we're talking about. How do you connect people to the goods and services they need?" Stephens said. "That's what I'm trying to do is make sure we're part of that conversation in both communities."

In addition to the studies, Stephens said he also hopes to put together a two-to-three-year capital improvement plan as they have some vehicles reaching their end-of-life cycles.

Helping him with purchasing new vehicles and maintaining the current ones is Director of Maintenance Robert Crane, who said he's had some trouble in years past keeping his mechanic team fully staffed.

Just recently, Crane said he had a full staff of four mechanics for about two to three months, something that greatly helped his department.

"It made for everything not being such an emergency," Crane said. "Because, you know, we're going to provide service no matter what happens."

Crane just received a resignation notice within the last week, but is hoping he can attract a new recruit to be back at full staff soon.

Stephens said they have a good core of mechanics, but the real struggle is to find the right fit. Instead of recruiting people who are also looking at oilfield jobs, Stephens said they are now recruiting people who already have jobs but are looking for a change of pace.

"We're selling public transit as a career, someone who will stay with us a while," Stephens said.

And as EZ Rider struggles with battling against trucks and single-occupancy vehicles on the road, as Stephens said most of their accidents involved other vehicles running into their buses, the maintenance side is as important as ever.

On the other side of EZ Rider's employment picture is the operators of their buses and paratransit vehicles,

EZ Rider employs 21 fixed-route drivers out of 24 budgeted positions, down about four drivers from September, but better than in previous times where operators dwindled as low as 15.

The company also employs six paratransit drivers out of the eight budgeted positions.

In the most recent budget year, Stephens said in an effort to recruit and retain more drivers they have increased salaries so that drivers train at $11.50 per hour and then are paid $12.50 per hour after the 20- to 30-day training period.

But in the more immediate future, EZ Rider is planning a new administrative building to be located next to the new maintenance building.

Stephens said the new building, estimated at a cost of about $2.1 million, should be completed about this time next year, as bids have already come in and they hope to award the bid in the next month or two. Construction would take 10 to 12 months.

Contact Jon Vanderlaan on twitter at @OAcourts, on Facebook at OA Jon Vanderlaan or call 432-333-7763.

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