OATS Transit has set the wheels in motion to implement a new software system that will change the way riders schedule trips and increase efficiency for the Missouri-based transportation service.
OATS, which stands for Operating Above the Standard, has been offering door-to-door transportation services throughout Missouri since the 1970s. It’s the largest rural transit provider in the state, covering 87 counties.
Officials said the goal with the new software system is to increase productivity, improve efficiency in service, handle more riders with better routing of buses and provide better reporting mechanisms.
Beginning Aug. 20, OATS users in Southwest Missouri will need to a schedule a ride in advance by calling the service’s Springfield office at 417-887-9272 or 800-770-6287. Riders in this area include those who live in Barry, Barton, Christian, Dade, Dallas, Douglas, Greene, Jasper, Lawrence, McDonald, Newton, Ozark, Polk, Stone, Taney, Webster and Wright counties. Most services require at least a 24-hour notice before the scheduled appointment.
“Companywide, OATS is rolling out new dispatching and scheduling software, which is impacting all of our communities in the way that we schedule calls, so our buses are running more efficiently and allow more opportunities for people to ride,” said Jill Stedem, OATS administrative and development director. “We are implementing it region by region, basically. Our Southwest Region will be coming on (board) next week.”
Ride fares will not change with the implementation of the new software, Stedem said. Round-trip fares in Jasper County are $3 for in-county, $2 for in-town rural communities, $5 for an adjacent county and $10 for a long-distance trip that’s three counties or more.
The company has been working toward the new system for about a year. The software will go into effect gradually in each region throughout the year. Stedem said the new system has been successful with riders in the Kansas City area for two months now.
“We’ve been using a software system that is being replaced with a more modern system that will allow more flexibility, better use of our vehicles so that we’re not backtracking a lot in the area,” Stedem said. “Hopefully at some point, we’ll be able to allow more trips as well as people to be able to make some same-day service, eventually.”
With the old software system, some regional users on various routes had to call a week to 10 days ahead of time to schedule OATS service. Once all of the regions are up to speed with the new program, which will take about a year, there will be more flexibility for riders, according to Stedem.
“We’re hoping to see some same-day service or next-day service available in some of those areas in the future,” she said. "We have eight regions statewide, and we want to bring everybody on board and then gradually add in some more of the flexibility.”
OATS Transit is funded, in part, through Federal Transit Administration grants through the Missouri Department of Transportation, Missouri Elderly & Handicapped Transportation Assistance Program, Area Agencies on Aging, some 351 Senior Tax and Senate Bill 40 boards, private contracts, rider fares and contributions from the community.
Last year, OATS provided 220,000 trips for a total of 1.5 million miles in the Southwest Region. Five years ago, OATS was able to provide 255,000 trips for a total of 1.7 million miles because the organization had more funding partners.
“Since that time, there has been some loss of funding partners where we need to look at more efficiencies in our service because we’re trying to offer more service, but unfortunately with less funding, that means trips get decreased,” Stedem said. “We want to be back up to the level of service we were providing (five years ago) and expand on that as well.”
Bus schedules by county are posted on the transportation system’s website at oatstransit.org/schedules, which shows the types of trips available in each area. The service travels to Carthage, Webb City, Joplin and Alba every Wednesday and to Joplin from Carthage, Reeds, Avilla, Sarcoxie and rural Joplin every Tuesday. These schedules in Jasper County are currently set, but officials said they hope to add more buses to that route in the not-too-distant future. Schedules vary in each county depending on funding availability to cover the service.