Harris County has a population of over 3 million people. Providing adequate transportation services to the residents of small urban and unincorporated areas of the County is often a challenging task. Long distances often make it difficult to operate transportation services in a cost-effective way. In 1999, Harris County, in partnership with Houston-Galveston Area Council, The American Red Cross, and other human service organizations, commissioned a study to determine the transportation needs within Harris County and to determine the best methodology to maximize existing resources for transportation coordination.
Harris County's population growth and increased population of seniors and people with disabilities would add to the need for accessible services. Unfortunately, in the greater Houston area there are not enough transportation resources for older adults and people with disabilities.
The study documented the need to fill in the gap in services provided by METRO for those residents who live outside METRO's service area or who are unable to access alternate transportation. These areas may include geographic regions outside of METRO, but may also include areas where METRO service is either unavailable or inaccessible to people who are people with disabilities and/or senior.
Harris County RIDES was created to fill in the gap in service.
The study recommended a countywide user-side subsidy model as the most efficient system with the lowest incremental cost to implement. Harris County Judge Robert Eckels hosted a convocation of elected officials and key community leaders in 2000 to present study findings by consultant MultiSystems and gain community support for a proposed model. In March 2003, Harris County, through the Office of Judge Eckels and with approval by Commissioners Court, became the fiscal agent of the Harris County Coordinated Transportation Program and began operation with a $40,000.00 grant funded by the Texas Department of Transportation.
In October 2003, Harris County launched the Harris County Coordinated Transportation Program (HCCTP) as an innovative pilot of regional and statewide significance.
Now known as Harris County RIDES, the program coordinates many of the region's transportation resources to provide basic mobility for Harris County residents with disabilities, seniors, and people with low income when the current transportation system is unavailable, insufficient, or inappropriate.
RIDES utilizes a market-based approach, innovative within the transportation arena, to expand services for the senior, people with disabilities, and low-income while (1) increasing the coordination of existing resources, (2) promoting consumer choice, (3) coordinating multiple funding sources, and (4) monitoring performance in service delivery.
Harris County RIDES expands services for seniors, people with disabilities and low income.
RIDES increases coordination of transportation resources through utilization of an open RFP process to qualify transportation providers for participation in the program, thereby making use of the vehicles, scheduling software, and personnel from multiple transportation providers.
RIDES increases coordination among other community organizations to improve customer services. The program has multiple access points. It utilizes the relationship organizations already have with their clients, in turn allowing caseworkers to serve as mobility managers. In addition, RIDES program staff provides both outreach to new organizations and mobility management services directly to individual customers.
To accomplish this coordination:
- Tickets were the "currency" customers used to purchase services from qualified transportation providers. (In 2011, an electronic fare card was implemented).
- Community organizations serve as points of access, making them partners in marketing the program and funding and serving as mobility mangers for the customers.
- Harris County, H-GAC, METRO, and the City of Houston work together to support the operations of this program. The program incorporates joint agreements between Harris County, the City of Houston, and non-profit organizations.
The office of the County Judge serves as the fiscal agent for this coordinated transportation program serving all of Harris County, which provides ride tickets to people who are senior, people with disabilities or meet low-income guidelines and need transportation. In conjunction with the RIDES staff, the Harris County's Purchasing Department, County Attorney's Office, and Management Services Department issue Request for Proposals, review proposals, develop and implement specific selection criteria, and award contracts for the coordinated program. In 2009, the RIDES Program moved to the Community Service Department, under the Transit Division. These available resources have the expertise to help ensure the long-term success of the program.
Through the benefits of collaboration, the program has proven to be an effective model for expanding services, promoting consumer choice, and ensuring optimum quality in service delivery. Through the benefits of this program, people that are senior or people with disabilities or low-income can now go to doctor's appointments, the grocery store, the pharmacy, and make other necessary trips. The RIDES program continues to serve as a coordination model for meeting the transportation needs within Harris County.