Kirby Hough no longer needs to add an extra 30-minute window for her daily commute to and from work.

Nor does she need to schedule rides at least 24 hours in advance when she wants to go somewhere. Or have single dollar bills on hand because drivers only accept exact payment.

Hough, who has visual impairment, has been using a new Uber-like ride-hailing service offered by the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority for about a month.

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“It’s made it a lot easier,” she said.

Now, KCATA is rolling out the app-based public transit service called RideKC Freedom On-Demand to the general public.

The one-year pilot project enables riders to use a cellphone app to hail taxis. While the core of the service was built with the mobility of people with disabilities in mind, it is open to the general public to use, too.

KCATA is offering the new service through a partnership with Transdev and will use taxis from 10/10 Taxi, Yellow Cab Co. and zTrip.

“This is a big deal,” said Robbie Makinen, president and chief executive of KCATA. “If we can get all the kinks out of it, with the help of our citizens, it will change the face of paratransit services.”

The beautiful part of the private-public partnership is that KCATA receives a portion of the fare paid by the general public, which drives down the cost to provide the service to those with disabilities, Makinen said.

Makinen said he hopes that persuades riders to choose the RideKC Freedom On-Demand service over other ride-hailing services because they know a portion of the fare will help those with disabilities get around.

The cost for riders who qualify under the American with Disabilities Act is $3 for the first eight miles and $2 for each additional mile. There’s a limit of four subsidized trips each day.

The cost for the general public is $10 for the first five miles and $2 for each additional mile. A portion of regularly priced fares on non-ADA trips is returned to reinvest in transit service. Up to four people can ride for the cost of a single fare.

Trips can be booked on the RideKC Freedom On-Demand app from Google Play or Apple app stores or by calling 816-842-9070.

“I’ve been using the app for probably a month now — and it’s been improving all the time, which is great,” Hough said. “The app is not always accurate, but at some point, everything gets worked out.”

The on-demand rides must start in one of two areas. If trips take riders outside the service areas, they will pay the regular fare on the return trip.

The app-based service is an alternative to the Share-A-Fare paratransit service, which must be scheduled in advance. Hough has used that service for five years and is still getting used to the idea that she can now make spur-of-the-moment trips with the RideKC Freedom app.

KCATA believes that the new service can be funded through savings by driving down costs of its Share-A-Fare program as well as the proceeds from the portion of regular priced fares.

Makinen said he doesn’t see the new service in competition with Uber or Lyft.

“This is about options for people,” he said. “This is about your regional Kansas City Transportation Authority being a mobility agency, not just a single mode company.”

He said the new service is a way of “thinking outside the bus” — a catchphrase of his.

“The more options that people have, the more access to public transit that people have as a whole,” Makinen said. “I think they all play together. It shouldn’t be an ‘us-versus-them’ mentality.”

© 2017 The Kansas City Star
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