TOPEKA, KANSAS (December 2, 2020) — A three-year pilot project that sought to provide reliable workforce transportation is slated to end on December 31, 2020. The first phase started in December 2017 when the Topeka Joint Economic Development Council (JEDO) set aside funding for a one-year project. Under the name of SOTO (South Topeka) the service was focused on a 24/7 transportation servicing businesses near the South Topeka Kanza Fire Commerce Park where limited, unreliable, or overly expensive transportation services existed.
The participants in the project were the Joint Economic Development Council (JEDO), the Topeka Partnership, Capital City Taxi, Topeka Metro, and individual employers. JEDO’s role was as a primary funding source for the project. Topeka Partnership provided outreach and communication with employers as part of their role in economic development. Capital City Taxi was the service provider. Topeka Metro acted as the administrative pass-through for the JEDO funds, as well as service analysis and reporting. The initial employers participating in the program were Bimbo Bakeries, Frito Lay, Home Depot, Target Distribution Center, Mars, Maximus/KanCare, R&R Pallet, and JB Turner & Sons Roofing & Sheet Metal.
The program officially kicked off January 1, 2018. By September, the program was experiencing nearly 1,500 rides a month. Feedback from the program was positive from SOTO employees, however, with the year nearing an end, the designated JEDO funds that supported the program were waning. In response, JEDO awarded an additional $7,800 to keep the program going. This allowed for planning on Phase 2 of the program.
While voting to award additional funds for the program, members of JEDO inquired whether there would be other areas in Topeka that could benefit from the ride-to-work program. On December 12, 2018, after collaboration with businesses in the north Topeka industrial area, JEDO approved an additional service for the north and east side of Topeka, to be known as NETO. Participating employers such as Goodyear, HF Mixing Group, Petro Deli, JM Smucker, and all 5 Reser’s locations joined NETO. The official launch of the service was implemented December 18, 2018.
With both the SOTO and NETO now a three-year program, the cost of each trip was shared between the passenger, JEDO and the employers. It was structured so in the first year the passenger pays $5 cash and JEDO would pay the remainder. In the second year the passenger would pay $5 and the remainder would be split 50/50 between JEDO and the employer. In the third and last year of the program the passenger would pay $5 and the employer would pay the remainder.
As the three-year program progressed, some of the businesses in both SOTO and NETO began withdrawing from the program due to low use by their employees or tightening budgets and changes in priorities. Currently, only two of the eight businesses in SOTO are still participating. Out of the original six businesses that began participating in NETO, only three remain and are still participating in the program.
On September 9, 2020 JEDO asked that a workforce task group be convened to review the SOTO and NETO pilots by looking at performance and use data outcomes during the project phases, as well as getting feedback from employers. Subsequently, the Workforce Transportation Taskforce; comprised of elected officials, providers, and employers; held meetings over three months.
The Taskforce recommendation from these meetings is to allow both the SOTO and NETO pilot projects to phase out on December 31, 2020. A communication notice was shared with all current or previous employers to advise of the sunset of the transportation pilots and to provide potential new option(s) for workforce transportation. To benefit and support the needs of employers and their employees, the Workforce Transportation Taskforce recommends the following options for consideration and approval by JEDO:
- Transportation Management Association
- Transportation Demand Management
- Transportation Network Companies (i.e., Uber/Lyft)
- Alternative taxi providers
- Entrepreneurial options