May 22—UNION CITY — The Flea is back.
Union City is reviving a "microtransit" program from the 1970s that uses vans to help people get to and from its industrial business district, the BART station and parts of the Decoto neighborhood.
This being the 2020's, though, The Flea this time around will take advantage of technology to provide on-demand van service.
The pilot program is set to launch Monday, and operate for 22 months. A Bay Area Air Quality Management District grant will cover about $663,000 of the $818,000 program cost and the city's transit funds will pick up the balance, according to staff.
City officials hope The Flea will fill some of the gaps in regular bus service and be flexible enough for commuters to take advantage of.
"In the 1970s, the Union City Flea was a service that basically ran on a fixed route," Stephen Adams, the city's transit manager, said at a council meeting earlier this month. The vehicles were dark green Mercedes-Benz mini-buses.
"You could call a dispatch and have the vehicle stop and pick you up along that route, or you could just basically wave your hand and the vehicle would stop," Adams said.
The new service will be accessible through a smartphone app. Anyone within designated service areas can request a ride a little before they need to be picked up and reserve a seat on one of two rotating 10-person vans. A seat can also be reserved by calling the Union City Transit dispatch center at 510-471-1411. Because of coronavirus-related restrictions, the service for now will carry a maximum of three riders per trip and require face coverings.
Adams said the vans will run weekdays from 4:40 to 8:35 a.m. and from 2:40 to 6:35 p.m., making a complete route about every 20 minutes. Riders will be given estimated pickup and drop-off times via the app or dispatcher.
Riders can pay the fare via their smartphone, Clipper card or with cash. Instead of bus stops, the vans will go to any address within the service area. Fares are the same as Union City Transit's, with adults paying $2 per ride and discounts provided to youths, seniors and those coming off BART.
"They will be hopping like fleas from one terminal to the next," Adams said. The 22-foot Ford Transit vans are accessible to people who use wheelchairs.
The Flea service area is roughly bounded by Whipple Road to the north, Alvarado-Niles Road to the south, Dowe Avenue to the west and Western Avenue to the east. It will run the full length of 11th Street in the Decoto neighborhood.
Previous attempts at fixed route transit options in the industrial area were unsuccessful, often because it was difficult to get people close to their destination and navigate large buses there, Adams said.
"Even though it's a limited area, it's a very important area in terms of our manufacturing," Adams said. "We have a lot of shift workers who prior to COVID were taking buses, taking BART," Gloria Ortega, the city's economic development manager, said during the council meeting.
"Having this really on-demand, very special service may help them get back on buses and BART. So we're really excited about this," Ortega said.
Some people who grew up in Union City and used the original Flea service turned "nostalgic and weepy" when they heard about the program revamp, he added.
For more information about The Flea, visit uctransit.org.
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