The recent loss of Waco’s last licensed cab service was barely noticed in an era of ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft.

But a more affordable lifeline remains for residents who need a lift to work or night school, as long as Waco Transit can keep it funded.

Through the Evening LINK service, riders can arrange to be picked up in a car or van anywhere in Greater Waco and dropped off at any destination between 8:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. The cost per trip is only $3, a small fraction of what passengers once paid through the now-defunct Yellow Cab, or through the ride-hailing apps.

The four-year-old service drew 4,280 riders last year, and local workforce leaders say it has been instrumental in helping some workers get and keep jobs.

Waco Transit general manager Allen Hunter said the Evening LINK service has not completely filled the community’s transportation gap for the nighttime hours when regular buses do not run, but it has helped.

“A lot of people don’t realize the service exists,” Hunter said. “Right now we’re meeting demand based on the calls we’re getting. But as far as demand in the community, I don’t think we’re meeting the demand at all.”

Hunter said he would like to expand the program and even study an Uber-like app that would allow riders to hail a ride quickly, as Capital Metro in Austin is doing in a pilot project. But first, he said the challenge is to get new state funding to replace state workforce grants that are set to expire this year.

“If we can’t secure state funding, it’s possible the program could go away,” he said. “We’re working on getting letters of support for new funding.”

The service isn’t cheap: The $3 fare covers only a tenth of the $30 cost to Waco Transit.

But for many workers Evening LINK is essential, said Julie Talbert, contract manager for Workforce Solutions for the Heart of Texas, which contracts with Waco Transit for the service.

“For a lot of people who come into the workforce center, night shift jobs are where they start,” Talbert said. “Sometimes we have the worker and we have the job, but it’s really the barrier is really the transportation piece.”

Talbert has ridden along in Evening LINK vehicles to interview users.

“Several I talked to go to night classes at MCC,” she said.

Talbert said most of the riders take a regular fixed-route bus to or from work, but their start or finish time does not fit with the bus schedules. That includes people in the hospitality, food service, manufacturing and health care fields, she said.

“These are areas where businesses are open 24 hours a day, or at least until 9 p.m.,” Talbert said.

Waco Transit runs fixed-route buses from 5 a.m. to 7:15 p.m. weekdays, with Saturday service extending to 8:15 p.m.

For night-shift workers without personal vehicles, using a ride-hailing service can be cost-prohibitive.

For example, an 11.5-mile ride from McLennan Community College to Central Texas Marketplace could cost between $13 and $18 with the lower-cost UberX service, according to the Uber website.

A 5.7-mile ride from Ninth Street and Franklin Avenue in downtown to McLennan Community College would cost $11.36 in an UberX. Under Yellow Cab, the fare would have been more than $15.

Hunter said Waco Transit’s Evening LINK service has not been in direct competition with the ride-hailing services or the taxis.

“Most people couldn’t afford to take a cab to and from work,” he said.

He said ride-hailing companies tend to appeal to people who want the convenience of a quick ride. Evening LINK passengers have to arrange their rides in advance and may have to allow other passengers on a route to be dropped off first.

Waco Yellow Cab owner Bill Kemp told the Tribune-Herald this month that he quit the business after 40 years because of decreasing call volume and the licensing and inspection costs required by the city of Waco. Under state legislation passed last year, ride-hailing companies are not subject to those city requirements.

Kemp said his business over the years declined from a peak of about 500 calls a day to about 100 calls. He ran only four taxis at the end.

Uber representatives declined to discuss their ridership numbers for Waco, and Lyft representatives could not be reached for comment Friday.

Another cab company, Waco Taxi Service, advertises its services online but is not licensed as required by city ordinance, Assistant City Attorney Kristi DeCluitt said. The licenses for the company and its drivers expired in September after about a year of operation, DeCluitt said.

Co-owner Adrian Green insisted Friday that he is licensed to operate in Waco.

“We’re doing our paperwork,” Green said. “We’ve been legal. We talked to them today.”

He said the company has seven vehicles, ranging from taxi cars to limousines.

“We service everyone and anyone,” he said. “We go outside of Waco, even to Dallas and Houston.”

The firm’s website advertises a flat rate of $35 for anywhere in Waco.

J.B. Smith is the the Tribune-Herald managing editor. A native of Sulphur Springs, he attended Southwestern University and joined the Tribune-Herald in 1997. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Waco and have two children.

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