Taxi service may nix late-night operationsWORTHINGTON — Late-night patrons of the Worthington Taxi Service have two options: use it or lose it.
By: Laura Grevas, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Late-night patrons of the Worthington Taxi Service have two options: use it or lose it.
And after three years of insufficient ridership, the latter is more likely.
“It’s not worth it. We’re losing money by the time you pay a driver and the gas for letting your cars run in the wintertime,” said Bonnie Junker, owner and operator of WTS, which serves Nobles County. “We hoped the ridership would be there, but it’s not.”
When the Junkers took ownership of the service in early 2007, the joint powers transit authority (comprised of city, county and Southwestern Minnesota Opportunity Council representatives) included in their contract a stipulation that the service remain available until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Before 2007, the taxi service was available until 10 p.m. each night, with later accommodations provided occasionally.
“The focus of that late ride was to make sure there was a way for people to get a safe ride home when the bars close; that was a concern for many,” explained Karen DeBoer, SMOC transit director. But, she added, “the ridership, the usage, was much less than we had expected.”
By the end of 2008, WTS told the authority they could no longer afford to continue late-night service with current ridership rates. Factoring in staffing and gasoline expenses, the service needs 15 riders (at $4.50 each) between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights to sustain its evening hours.
At the start of this year, the authority paid WTS a $2,000 subsidy from mixed funding sources to cover costs on nights the 15-rider criteria isn’t met.
“(Members of the authority) really feel strongly that this is something that’s good for our community … it also reduces county expenses the less DWIs there are,” DeBoer said.
But with each quarter of 2009, the situation seems to have worsened. From January to the end of March, 84 percent of the weekend rides necessary to sustain the service were given. By the third quarter (ending in September), only 50 percent of the necessary rides were given. So far in 2009, Fridays have had 60 percent of the needed ridership, while Saturdays have had 76 percent.
“If they can’t meet their expenses, they want that portion of their contract taken out. They would just end at 10 p.m. or midnight, whatever gets negotiated,” DeBoer explained. Hagen Distributing has promoted the service by giving coupons for free rides to area bars to hand out to their patrons, but the way DeBoer sees it, the only thing that will save the service is a spike in ridership — and soon. The transit board could change the contract at its January meeting.
“If there isn’t some kind of support for this system, the taxi is going to ask for those hours to be reduced, because they can’t afford to operate the business with no one riding,” she said.
Junker said the service will continue to accommodate late-night riders on certain occasions — King Turkey Day weekend and New Year’s Eve, for example — and will accommodate special requests made ahead of time, but she plans to cease late-night shifts this month.
“We’ve advertised it, we’ve plugged it, and after three years it’s not there,” she said. “We’ve given it a chance.”