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City adjusts after getting new bus routes

A Cities Area Transit bus (CAT) stops at the Metro Transit Center at 450 Kittson Ave. on the afternoon of Thursday, June 21, 2018. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

Almost five months after Cities Area Transit revamped local bus routes, the agency is offering resources to increase declining ridership.

From 2017 to the end of November, CAT Mobility Manager Ali Rood said data showed a 9 percent drop in ridership, most of what she suspects resulted from the changes her agency implemented in May.

"We expected the ridership to either stay steady or drop a little bit when we did the changes, just because learning a new system will take some time for people," Rood said.

From 2016 to 2017, ridership had decreased 12 percent, she said. By updating routes, CAT hoped to attract more passengers by reducing wait times and getting people to places faster.

So far, Rood said the new Route Five has been living up to CAT's intentions of improvement. Starting at the downtown transit center, Route Five heads straight to Walmart on North 55th Street via University Avenue, servicing campus housing along North 43rd Street along the way. Previous routes to Walmart, a popular location for passengers, involved several transfer points and longer wait times.

Feedback CAT has been collecting since November shows riders are generally pleased with Route Five but concerned with Route Seven, which also begins at the Downtown transit center and reaches Columbia Mall by way of Washington Street.

"We've learned that (buses) needs some more time to complete the route," she said. "And because they're not able to complete the route in the time we've allowed, people are missing their transfers to other routes."

Some riders will get off at Midtown, a stop along Route Seven, and transfer onto Route Ten, which takes passengers to Choice Fitness.

"If Route Seven is running late, they're going to miss that transfer to Route 10," Rood said. "So their trip now is extended by an hour, or it'll just be a missed trip," depending on the time of day.

Rood said CAT hopes to have a full report to share with the city by early 2019, and afterward the department will study ways it can improve problems like those along with Route Seven.

Despite the drop in ridership, Rood said she's noticed a spike in requests for travel training, a free, individualized service CAT offers the public to help riders know how to navigate routes.

"It's good to see people who are saying 'I'd like to venture out and see the new system now,'" Rood said. "(We've) definitely seen some people who used to ride that haven't been riding since the new system."

And as of November, she said Cities Area Transit now offers CAT Prowler, a passenger phone app personalized to Grand Forks routes.

"And on there you can plan your trips, you can see how far the bus is from your location and you can track the bus in real time," Rood said. "So if you're sitting at a stop you can see where it is, (and) if you're afraid that you've missed the bus you can see if it's been by or not."

On the horizon

In October, CAT submitted a request to the North Dakota Department of Transportation, applying for approximately $1.2 million in leftover state funding toward projects to improve public transportation in Grand Forks. Rood said her agency recently was notified it will receive funds to install new fare boxes ($200,000), software ($90,000) and surveillance servers ($16,300). NDDOT will also give CAT the money it needs for a $150,000 project to install a backup generator for emergency situations. For all of the projects there is a 20 percent local share, Rood said, that will be covered by 2019 funds in the city's transit budget.

Emily Allen

Allen joined the Grand Forks Herald to cover local government and politics May 2018. Call her at 701-780-1102, email her at eallen@gfherald.com or follow her on Twitter, @Emily_theHerald.

(701) 780-1102