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Greater Grand Forks route changes difficult for new Americans, according to agency

New routes and rules have made Cities Area Transit bus service more efficient in recent years, but those changes have also created new complications for some riders in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.

Lutheran Social Services staff members say the bus route changes have made it more difficult for their New American clients to use the bus service, which can make it more difficult for them to find jobs because they lack transportation.

“We understand the reasons behind all of the changes, we want the city to run well. …  But it’s been a continual change that’s really a challenge for new Americans because of the language barrier,” said Katie Dachtler, resettlement coordinator for Lutheran Social Services. Many of those new American clients rely solely on the bus service because they don’t yet have their driver’s license when they first come to the U.S., she said.

“When people rely on the bus system in Grand Forks, their world is essentially cut down to where that bus line goes,” she said.

For example, it was confusing when some of the routes were changed this past fall, including the change of the buses only stopping at designated stops instead of people being able to flag down a bus anywhere, Dachtler said.

Many of Lutheran Social Services’ new American clients don’t have a computer or can’t read English, so they don’t know where to go to learn about the bus stops and routes, she said.

More riders

Route changes are made according to available funds and surveys of ridership, said Dale Bergman, Cities Area Transit superintendent.

“A lot of people thought the designated stops weren’t very fair, but in reality it is the fair way, (because) it keeps the buses on time for everyone,” Bergman said.

And despite the possibly confusing changes, more people in general are riding the bus, with ridership increasing by more than 50 percent from 2006 to 2013, according to ridership records.

Dachtler added that it’s disappointing that there isn’t a bus to the Grand Forks Industrial Park, where there are many possible jobs for her clients.

But CAT tried a bus route to the industrial park in 2011 and only had one rider in six months, so the route was cut, Bergman said. He added that CAT would like to have more bus routes throughout the city, but there is limited funding.

CAT is aware of the language barrier for new Americans needing the bus system, Bergman said, and he is already working with an interpreter to talk to new Americans riding the bus and understand how CAT can better help new Americans.

Bergman added that CAT has done training with different organizations, such as the North Dakota School for the Blind, to make it easier to understand how to use the bus system. Anyone who has questions on riding the bus can call CAT at (701) 746-2600, and if need be, someone who works for CAT will help the caller individually, he said.

“We would expect to get a call, and we’ll work with them,” Bergman said. “We’re willing to go out of our way to get people riding the bus.”

Charly Haley
Charly Haley covers city government for the Grand Forks Herald. As night reporter, she also has many general assignments. Before working at the Herald, she was a reporter at the Jamestown Sun and interned at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Detroit Lakes Newspapers and the St. Cloud Times. Haley is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead, and her hometown is Sartell, Minn.
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