The city of Prichard recently struck a deal to allow Comfort Coach to run two of the bus routes abandoned after funding to the WAVE transit system was cut last year.
The move to cut more than $700,000 from Mobile’s general fund transfer to McDonald Transit resulted in all routes past downtown Prichard’s federally funded hub being eliminated. Instead of allowing passengers to be stranded, Prichard has come up with a short-term solution, Mayor Troy Ephriam said.
As a condition of its business license, Comfort Coach provides one shuttle for free. A route from the hub to Eight Mile and the crosstown route to the Whataburger in Chickasaw have been restored because of the move.
“The routes are pretty much packed,” Ephriam said.
Comfort Coach is not a new company, but had never worked in Prichard. Because of the early success, Ephriam said, an additional shuttle could be made available.
The route to Eight Mile begins service each day at 6:30 a.m. and stops at 6:40 p.m., according to a statement. There is a break from 10:20 a.m. to 3:05 p.m. The Eight Mile route makes a total of six stops, terminating at the Bill Clark Center. The Chickasaw route goes directly to Whataburger from the Prichard hub in a 10-minute trip, starting at 7:10 each weekday morning. The Chickasaw route ends at 7:55 p.m. each weekday evening. On Saturdays the service begins at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 5:55 p.m.
The agreement with Comfort Coach is only temporary, as Prichard is working on a planning grant to help fund its own municipal transportation service, Ephriam said.
The cuts have hit the community hard, as evidenced by comments from a local Uber driver. The driver, who requested anonymity, said while he normally works part-time between Mobile Regional Airport and the downtown Mobile area, he recently began picking up pings from Prichard.
The driver said he picked up a man in Prichard headed to the megabus station at the GM&O building downtown. After speaking to the man on the ride over, he said he decided to not charge him.
The driver also declined charging a young mother and Wal-Mart employee headed to work. He estimated a charged ride would have cost her roughly two hours’ wages.
“As an Uber driver, it’s not good for us to decline rides and I don’t want to make money off these people,” he said. “I don’t want to be the guy jamming these people.”
The driver said he hopes the city can bring back WAVE at some point because he believes Prichard is an underserved area.
“People in Prichard are using the service to go to Mobile and it seems very onerous to cut them out,” he said. “The people there always get the short end of the stick …”
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