Residents of Savage needing a ride have another option as the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority (MVTA) this month debuted on-demand bus service.

Called MVTA Connect, the service allows anyone to schedule a trip through a smartphone app or companion website and go anywhere within boundaries of the south metro city. Riders can book trips to and from Burnsville Center, the Burnsville Walmart or the Burnsville Transit Station, too.

The MVTA has offered free rides during June to promote the pilot service, which operates from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Starting July 1, riders will pay $4 per trip. Passengers will also get a free all-day transfer to use on fixed-route MVTA buses.

Ridership has been slowly picking up as word about the service has spread. On both Thursday and Friday, more than 20 people boarded the two small buses MVTA is using to provide door-to-door rides. Some were repeat customers, said transit agency spokesman Richard Crawford.

Teenager Vernessa Jones was among the early riders, using the service to get to her job at Dairy Queen.

“It was fairly easy and very convenient,” she said. The bus picked her up at home and dropped her at work. “It was on time.”

Jones has taken eight trips on Connect and said she likely will continue using it even when the promotional free rides end.

Crawford is hoping others will, too. He said the transit agency wanted to start small to gauge interest, and chose Savage after running some simulations that showed that Connect could provide between 75 and 100 rides a day.

Connect is meant to fill in the gaps and reach riders that fixed-route buses can’t. Some of Connect’s first users have been those like Jones who don’t have a consistent route serving them, or don’t have nearby service at the time of day they need to travel.

“The purpose is to give customers more options when they call us,” Crawford said. “For transit-dependent people, it’s hard to say, ‘Sorry, but we don’t have a route to serve you.’ ”

Those who need transportation can arrange a ride through the Microtransit app or ondemand.transloc.com. Riders choose their pickup and drop-off points and the time of day they wish to travel. Riders get a text message when a driver has been assigned to their trip, and they can track the location and arrival time of their bus in real time.

While Connect is a point-to-point service, it is public transportation, meaning drivers may make other stops to pick up or drop off other passengers along the way.

MVTA is spending $50,000 on the pilot, and if it proves successful, it could be expanded to other cities in MVTA’s service area south of the Minnesota River, Crawford said.

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