Mattie Gullixson never saw herself proposing a transportation plan. However, during her time as executive director of First Tee Pikes Peak, she found the greatest challenge to recruiting children from the 80916 and 80910 ZIP codes was not a lack of interest, but of reliable transit options.

“Either their families had one car and Mom or Dad had to take that for work purposes, or they had no vehicles,” said Gullixson, a Colorado Springs native and senior regulatory analyst for Mayor John Suthers’ office. “There were very little regular, reasonable, effective alternatives for them to get to and from our programs, and I found that that was a common challenge for many of the other development programs working in the Southeast.”

Gullixson hopes her proposed van line service, tentatively named Joy Ride, will help alleviate what public transit officials call the “first mile/last mile problem” — getting passengers from a transportation hub to their final destination.

Gullixson modeled Joy Ride after proven concepts in metropolitan areas, such as New York City and Miami, of using passenger vans as a responsive, essentially on-demand transit option for residents in Southeast Colorado Springs. She plans to start with two passenger vans, with the goal of phasing up to four vehicles within three years.

“There’s been a really significant entrepreneurial opportunity that people have taken advantage of, and it really has helped to serve lower-income and marginalized populations in those bigger cities where public transit just isn’t as flexible to be able to serve some of those areas,” Gullixson said. “That would be something that really could help change somebody’s life, whether it’s a teen that needs to get to the library and can’t necessarily take as much time that it might require to do that, or a working mom who’s sitting with a baby and a toddler at a bus station.”

More specific details, such as routes and service times, will depend on community feedback, Gullixson said.

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“I really want this business to be seen as a partnership with the community,” she said. “Regular surveys and feedback are going to be a part of this to make sure it continues to be a responsive and flexible transit option.

“[Southeast Colorado Springs] is a great part of our city, so hopefully through this there are more opportunities for individuals in that community to be able to connect with other parts of our community and vice versa.”

A 2015 Harvard Business study determined that commute time was one of the most significant factors in social mobility — even more so than other obvious factors such as two-parent households and crime rate, Gullixson said. Filling the gaps in transit services would better position Southeast residents to take advantage of the city’s thriving job market, she said.

“It’s just incrementally raising the bar of opportunity for people,” Gullixson said. “It’s all those little things that those of us who have regular access to transit options take for granted and don’t always see how that can limit your choices when you don’t have that.”

Joy Ride would not only establish a reliable alternative transportation method for Southeast residents, but also better connect them with existing transit options, Gullixson said, adding the city already has done some work establishing express bus routes that cut 30-minute rides in half, and Joy Ride would help passengers capitalize on those shorter commute times.

“Because that first mile/last mile challenge is such a big barrier, I really even foresee this increasing ridership on public transit,” Gullixson said. “Now it’s not going to take a 20-minute walk for me to get from my house to the bus station. It could take me a five-minute ride.”

Gullixson’s dream is to see Joy Ride create a domino effect for positive change in the Southeast Colorado Springs community, leading to more foot traffic among Southeast businesses and a wealth of opportunities for residents both within their ZIP code and outside it.

“I really see this as being a ripple effect in the community,” Gullixson said.  “Colorado Springs really is a gem of a city. If, by moving that bar just a little bit, we increase the number of people who can really appreciate and enjoy that, I think that’s what we’re all about.”