Getting around Collin County just got easier. Well, it really started last July when Sherman-based Texoma Area Paratransit Service (TAPS) took over McKinney’s two-city bus lines and the county’s on-demand transit service, both previously run by Collin County Area Regional Transit (CCART). That’s also when TAPS introduced a new commuter line from McKinney to Plano’s Parker Road DART station and started a McKinney to DFW Airport or Love Field shuttle.

Got all that? We’ll cover it fully in a moment.

TAPS, a non-profit corporation funded by state and federal transportation dollars, expanded its operation into Collin County on July 1 at the request of Collin County and McKinney leaders. Now serving seven counties – Clay, Montague, Cooke, Grayson and Fannin along the Red River, along with Wise and Collin – TAPS’ operating area boasts 875,000 folks, many of whom need safe, dependable transportation, or perhaps just want a break from gas prices or driving in snarled traffic.

TAPS Executive Director Brad Underwood says response to the new Collin County service has been “absolutely wild.” He notes, when operations began here, there were 104 on-demand, or custom curb-to-curb, trips per day, including Medicaid trips for doctor visits. By December, that number had quadrupled to 449 per day – not including Medicaid runs.

TAPS CEO and Executive Director Brad Underwood

Photo by Rick Atkinson

TAPS CEO and Executive Director Brad Underwood

 

Demand was never more evident than immediately after December’s massive ice storm, an event that shut down TAPS for the better part of three days. “Before noon we already had 900 incoming phone calls,” Underwood says. “We finished the day with about 1,800 calls. Typically, we get between 1,100 and 1,200 phone calls [per day].”

Last year, TAPS provided over 400,000 on-demand trips across its service area. “This year,” Underwood says, “we will break half-a-million trips, probably before July.”

TAPS originated in 1986 as a transportation service for senior citizens of Cooke, Grayson and Fannin counties, but over the years it has grown to serve the public-at-large. Underwood notes TAPS has expanded 103 percent over the past four years alone. “For us, it’s about connectivity – connecting people where they need to go,” he says. “And then, how do we do that in the most cost-effective manner?”

 

Because the service is government subsidized, fares are very affordable. TAPS’ 2013 budget is approximately $20 million.

While public transportation is obviously a huge help to the elderly, disabled and disadvantaged, Underwood says, more and more, it’s becoming the choice of a wide swath of citizenry. “Really,” he says, “over a third of our business every single day is work-related. These are individuals going back-and-forth to work.”

19-stop Blue Route 100
14-stop Red Route 300

The 19-stop Blue (Route 100 – top) and the 14-stop Red (Route 300 – bottom). Both originate from McKinney’s new TAPS office at 600 N. Tennessee St., near downtown. Click on each image for a larger version of the route map as a PDF.

 

TAPS has a current inventory of 102 vehicles of various sizes, with 26 assigned to McKinney. Sleek, 38-seat Eldorado buses handle most McKinney-to-DART runs, while the workhorse 20-seat Titans drive the fixed-routes and new 3-passenger MV1s are used for on-demand trips.

OK, McKinney’s TAPS service, in detail:

There are two fixed routes: the 19-stop Blue (Route 100) and the 14-stop Red (Route 300). Both originate from McKinney’s new TAPS office at 600 N. Tennessee St., near downtown. Buses complete the routes nine times daily, Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Cost per ride is $1 per person. Disabled individuals and those aged 60 and over ride free. Complete schedules are available at tapsbus.com. (TAPS drivers do not make change.)

Underwood says the routes are a bit long now, with headways – how often a bus comes by a particular stop – of over an hour. “That’s not very efficient. If you’re going to ride a fixed-route, you really don’t want to sit at a bus stop for an hour-and-a-half, waiting on a bus to arrive.” Improved routes are being planned, he says, with increased stops to more areas.

The Commuter Connect line to Parker Road DART departs McKinney from the new Park & Ride lot at 1807 Gateway Blvd., near Collin College Higher Learning Center at U.S. Highway 75 and State Highway 121. Gateway-to-DART runs and back are made eight times daily, Monday through Friday. One-way fare is $2 per person or a monthly pass may be obtained for $58.

Underwood notes that two people used Gateway-to-DART on its first day, but by December average use had risen to 25-to-35 riders per bus, per day. Getting this link started, he says, was a high priority for TAPS and McKinney city leaders.

The on-demand service is available to riders traveling anywhere within TAPS’ service area. The rides, which may be shared with others, are available Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., but must be scheduled by 3 p.m. a day prior.

In-town trips cost just $2 per person; out-of-town and out-of-county trips run $3 and $4 per person, respectively. In all cases, disabled individuals, seniors aged 60 and over, students over 12 years and children under 12 with parental permission ride for half-price.

 

The new McKinney Airport Hop operates from Gateway as well, with service to and from DFW Airport or Love Field, four times a day, seven days a week. One-way fare for 1-to-3 people to either airport is $30 per person; $20 each for four or more. “It’s one of our fastest growing, most successful routes,” Underwood says. “It makes sense.” Airport Hops must be scheduled at least 72 hours prior to travel.

Monthly unlimited ride passes are also available at the McKinney TAPS office or at tapsbus.com. Go Anywhere Passes cost $80 and are good on any bus, system-wide. They include all fixed-routes, on-demand service, and the Gateway-to-DART service. The $52 Go Access Pass is identical service for disabled riders, seniors aged 60-plus, students 12-plus and children under 12 with parental permission.

A $20 Go Local Pass includes unlimited monthly use of McKinney’s Red and Blue routes.

The Airport Hop is not included with monthly passes.

Mark Pritchard, General Manager of TAPS Collin County, calls this area’s ridership spike “phenomenal.” “It’s not been without a few growing pains,” he says, “but I believe it’s an indication that the need for public transportation in Collin County is significant. We have a very dedicated group of drivers that are doing a fine job, putting in a lot of hours.”

Underwood says this area’s representatives on TAPS’ 15-member board – McKinney Mayor Brian Loughmiller, City Councilman Randy Pogue and Collin County Commissioner Chris Hill – have been “extremely kind and helpful.”

Says Loughmiller of TAPS, “I think it’s a better service, given the additional routes that are going to be involved, and, of course, the trips from [Gateway] to the Parker Road station, which we didn’t previously have.”

“It’s going to give us an opportunity also to get a feel for what the ridership will be like from McKinney down to the DART station. ... Brad Underwood has been good to work with. He’s certainly got a lot of energy, and he’s very interested in seeing the TAPS program grow.”

Underwood, a native of nearby Bonham, says he feels blessed to serve this area. “It’s something I take very passionately, because we are affecting so many people. ... We just hired our 170th employee, and I think all these people have jobs and they have homes, and they’re able to have income because of what we do and how we affect the community.”

“I enjoy listening and talking to people,” Underwood says. “Tell me what we can do better.”

For more information or to schedule trips, visit tapsbus.com or call 1-800-256-0911.

 

About the author: Rick Atkinson is freelance writer and cartoonist based in McKinney. He and his wife Debbie look forward to giving the Gateway Airport Hop a try very soon.