BY NIKKI MEYER
A large percentage of people living in metro areas don’t own their own vehicle; they don’t need to. Public transportation is often available via rail or bus, and if those options don’t work odds are pretty good you can catch a ride from a taxi or a driver with one of the two big ridesharing services, Lyft or Uber.
Head to smaller, rural areas however and your options for getting from point A to point B without owning your own set of wheels get a lot more limited. The rails running through Fairmont aren’t meant for passengers. You won’t find bus stops in any town in Martin County. And taxis certainly don’t roam the streets.
Jason Mau, and others like him, saw a need for faster, easier transportation in the Martin County area. However, according to Mau, the big ridesharing services haven’t extended their networks very far outside of major economic hubs. “It took Mankato a long time just to get it. They opened it up and it’s....okay... but down here you can’t get it.”
Mau decided to imitate the two big companies and start his own ridesharing service. “It was called Taxi Share, in the beginning. And everybody liked what we were doing. A lot of people were getting rides and calling us the fast taxi or the fast ride.” Mau said the company’s average response time is 10-15 minutes. “So, my business is called Fairmont Area Taxi Share," but rearrange the first letters and... "now we’re registered under FAST everywhere else.”
What exactly is ridesharing? If you were to combine the ideas of carpooling and taxis, that would be pretty close to ridesharing. Ridesharing allows drivers who own their own vehicle to make money driving people around. However, it doesn’t have to be a full-time job. Some drivers choose only to work during the busiest times of days, or to pick up passengers as they commute from their day-job back to their home. Drivers simply mark themselves as available via their company’s smartphone app whenever they are ready for passengers. When they are done, they mark themselves as unavailable again. Ridesharing lets drivers operate when and where they want to, and gives passengers more options, often at cheaper prices. The number of available drivers for a ridesharing company isn’t limited to the number of permits it can get or cars it can afford to own, like a taxi company may be limited.
Right now Mau organizes about seven FAST drivers, though he’s always on the lookout for more. Drivers are currently required to have a 2007 or newer vehicle, a good driving record, and must be able to past a background check, for starters. FAST hubs in Martin County, though has transported passengers as far away as Mankato and Sioux Falls.
When FAST first opened, about three years ago, rides were booked over the phone and the company was averaging 10-12 runs per day. Later, the FAST Ride Share Facebook page launched and gave riders the option of booking online, and now FAST sees an average of 75-100 runs per day. “A few Fridays ago we had our busiest day ever with about 125 runs,” Mau said. And coming up just on the horizon, the company is hoping to launch a new app by April 1st. The free app will allow riders to book and pay directly from their smartphone, making the process easier than ever.
The cost of a trip is based on $1.15 per mile. A trip from Truman to Fairmont is a minimum $13 charge.
Mau said it’s been interesting to see where riders are coming from/going to. “That’s one thing that amazes a lot of people. About 15% of my business is people from the bars, but 85% is not.” The biggest chunk of that other 85%? “The place we do the most business is we take people to WalMart—employees and customers.”
Mau said the other biggest chunk is taking people to the doctor. FAST now works with Mayo to help transport patients who have no other means of transportation. “We do that 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” MRCI and Martin County Human Services also frequently utilize FAST’s services.
Mau feels that a ridesharing business isn’t just convenient for passengers, it’s also filling a big need in the community. “We’re taking people off the road that would typically go buy a car and not have insurance on it, or who don’t have a license, because they have no other choice. When people need to get to work at 5 o’clock in the morning, there’s nobody else out there.”
The need for transportation to work is an area FAST is looking to offer more services. Right now the company is working on setting up an agreement with Kerry Ingredients & Flavours in Blue Earth. Essentially the company will offer a ridesharing van for employees to get to work in the morning and home again in the afternoon. FAST will arrange for payment from Kerry, and employees will be able to have fees deducted straight from their paychecks, simplifying the overall appointment and payment process.
The success of the ridesharing business has led Mau into other ventures. “I’m a service guy. People ask for something and I try to figure out a way to make it work.” One thing he’s been asked about is party buses, which he now can provide, utilizing and agreement with another company, for groups of up to 44 people.
Mau said that’s also how the FAST Travel Agency came about. “I like to travel. I’ve been to about 30 countries and every state except Hawaii.” Mau said he looked into and decided to become affiliated with Travel Quest.
As if that weren’t enough, FAST will soon offer a courier service. “What we’re going to do is go 60 miles from Fairmont. We’re going to offer anywhere from 1-day to 2-day.” Mau said earlier that day he’d been to Mankato on a run for a local business. “Right now you want to mail something through the post office, it takes 2-3 days. It leaves here and has to go to Mankato and then it has to the Cities before it gets back down here.”
Along with offering to deliver small parcels, Mau said the courier service will be able to serve papers and have mobile notary capabilities. Food and grocery delivery will be possible as well. “You want a pizza delivered? We’ll deliver a pizza.”
Right now FAST Ride Share and FAST Travel Agency can be found on Facebook. Rides can also be booked by calling (507) 236-1241. For a Spanish-speaking dispatcher call/para un despschador espanol por favor llame 507 736-7032. $5 ride tokens are also available for purchase.
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