OCTA Extends On-Demand Ride Service for Parts of Orange County

OCTA Extends On-Demand Ride Service for Parts of Orange County
The back of an Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) bus is seen in Orange County, Calif., on Aug. 21, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Sarah Le

An on-demand ride service operated by the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA)—but available only in a limited area of the county—has been extended through Dec. 31, 2021.

OC Flex was started as a 12-month pilot program in October 2018 that mimicked the services provided by companies such as Uber and Lyft. The program was later extended for another year.

“We have a lot of residents, especially seniors that have been utilizing it, same with students,” said Laurie Davies, an OCTA director, at a board meeting on Nov. 23. “I’m glad that we’re going to be able to continue this.”

OC Flex originally operated in two zones: the Orange Zone in Aliso Viejo, Laguna Niguel, and Mission Viejo; and the Blue Zone in Huntington Beach and Westminster. Bus services in these areas have been largely unavailable due to cuts made in 2016.

However, in March, OC Flex service in the Blue Zone was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic and low ridership.

Until then, “the [OC Flex] service had been experiencing ridership growth and had made progress towards the established performance goals,” said Jack Garate, department manager of paratransit services at OCTA, during the board meeting.

Keolis Transit Services, the company that had signed the contract to provide the service to the county, had to back out of the agreement in May because of the pandemic. The county then assigned a new contract to MV Transportation.

The service runs seven days a week, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays.

Residents get unlimited rides for $4.50 a day through the mobile app, or they can pay $5 cash in person. Groups riding together get a discount.

Because OCTA wasn’t able to evaluate the effects of changes made to the OC Flex program in February due to the pandemic, officials recommended extending the pilot program to the end of 2021, and the board agreed. The agency will discuss options for the program beyond 2021 next month.

While the original Blue Zone will remain suspended, Garate said the City of Huntington Beach has submitted a proposal to OCTA to implement a similar type of on-demand ride service.

“I think there is a much larger need and demand for this service in South County, just due to the nature of how we’re spread out,“ board member Joseph Muller said. ”We don’t have a lot of parking structures and things like that, so it’s a lot easier for people to go ahead and use a shared ride service like this to meet their transportation needs.”

After peaking in February, OC Flex ridership in the Orange Zone declined significantly in March and April; now, it’s around 50 percent of what it was in February. However, directors expressed optimism that the riders will soon return.

“I think it’s a brilliant idea, and I was so delighted at how well it was received in south county,” board member Barbara Delgleize said.

OCTA’s balanced budget for the 2020–2021 fiscal year was set at approximately $1.4 billion in June, more than $98 million lower than the previous year’s budget.

“We clearly had to make some difficult decisions because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but this budget demonstrates OCTA’s ongoing commitment to improving the lives of residents through transportation,” OCTA Chairman Steve Jones, also the mayor of Garden Grove, said in a statement at the time.

Related Topics