Ozark Regional expands on-demand transit to Fayetteville, Bentonville

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 2,505 views 

Springdale-based public transit provider Ozark Regional Transit Authority (ORT) announced Friday (Feb. 18) establishing on-demand transit service in Bentonville and Fayetteville starting Feb. 22 as it builds on the growing service model that started two years ago in Rogers.

The service, which has been described as the Uber for public transit, allows passengers to schedule rides using a smartphone app. In Bentonville, all traditional fixed routes will transition to on-demand transit. In Fayetteville, one traditional fixed route will be eliminated to provide for the new service. ORT will continue to operate two fixed routes in Fayetteville. The three fixed routes in Springdale will remain unchanged.

According to a news release, the service along with all other ORT routes remain zero-fare through 2022.

“For the first time in history, the cities of Bentonville, Fayetteville and Rogers will have almost complete public transit coverage in one form or another,” the release shows.

Jeff Hatley, public information officer for ORT, said it’s using a Via system to provide the service. He noted that passengers who want to ride between Rogers and Bentonville can do so by booking a ride to the transition points between the cities, and from there, booking another ride to continue to the destination. The two transition points are at NorthWest Arkansas Community College and adjacent to Krispy Kreme.

If the Via system is successful, he said it might be expanded to allow for new features, such as booking rides between cities all at once instead of having to book two rides.

Hatley said two buses will provide the on-demand transit service in Bentonville, while Fayetteville will have one. Rogers also has two buses offering the service.

ORT’s smartphone app, ORT On Demand, can allow users to receive notifications offering real-time visibility for estimated bus arrival times and when a bus has arrived. According to the release, users must allow notifications for this to work. The app is available on the user’s preferred app store. When searching for the app in the store, look for the thumbnail of the app in blue with ORT in white lettering.

Hatley noted the app may not show at the top of the search list “until the search algorithms kick in with more searches for it.” He said some have successfully found the app by typing “ortondemand” in the search bar.

To schedule a ride, app users can drag and move the cursor to the preferred destination and confirm it. Once the ride is confirmed, an estimated time of arrival will be provided along with a photo of the vehicle, including its identification number. The arrival time will countdown until the vehicle arrives.

In November, the Walton Family Foundation gave ORT a $985,608 grant for multiple initiatives, including establishing on-demand transit service in Bentonville and extending the zero-fare service in Northwest Arkansas through 2022.

Hatley said the service in Fayetteville was reconfigured to remain within the city’s budget. He added that Rogers will transition to the new Via system that Bentonville and Fayetteville will use at no additional cost to the city.

On-demand transit will be available at different times and up to six days a week, excluding Sunday. In Bentonville, it will be available from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. Friday, and noon to 11:59 p.m. Saturday. In Fayetteville, it will be available from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday. The service is available in Rogers from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, and from 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday.

In 2021, total ridership rose by 8.5% to 190,549, from 175,638 in 2020. In January 2020, average daily passengers were 1,025. This fell to 659 as of December but up from a low of 485 in May 2020.