Cities Area Transit sees increase in ridership as public input gathered for transit development plan
Last year a total of 173,082 riders used the CAT system and so far this year the ridership is at 80,733
GRAND FORKS – The Cities Area Transit system, which provides public transportation to Grand Forks and East Grand Forks residents, has seen an increase in ridership, according to Public Transportation Division Director Dale Bergman.
Last year the total transit ridership was 173,082, and so far this year the ridership is at 80,733. In April, the total ridership was 20,929, which was the highest number of people riding the bus in April in the past three years.
Bergman said there are ridership fluctuations throughout the year as the summer months typically have less riders than in the fall and winter months.
“We actually see it pick up when schools start like October, November, December through January then we start seeing a decrease as soon as university students leave now and then when the grade school kids are all done we start seeing it go down,” Bergman said.
While the numbers of riders are up, Bergman said he can’t directly relate it to people taking the bus because of higher gas prices, which have spiked across the country over the past couple of months. Despite the high gas and diesel prices, Bergman said the Cities Transit budget hasn’t been impacted as he is always monitoring the market.
“We’ve seen the prices going up and we’re looking at that all the time,” he said. “We’ve already budgeted for the increases because (a) long time ago I learned that lesson is that you have to kind of plan how the market is starting to work so we’ve already planned for the additional increases in those costs.”
Currently Bergman said the budget process for 2023 is underway with preliminary approval set for early October. Bergman said the market is still being closely monitored for how the next year’s budget will shape out.
Beyond an increase in ridership, the CAT is currently updating its transit development plan, which Bergman said is required every five years. The plan will provide recommendations for transit improvements that will be implemented over the next five to 10 years. Within those recommendations include service improvements and route changes.
Some of the route ideas within the plan include combining the two routes that run through East Grand Forks together into one route. Bergman said another route used to run through East Grand Forks, but was stopped back in 2020 after only one to two people used the route each month.
Other route ideas include restructuring routes on UND, which has four routes on campus: UND Red, UND Blue, UND Purple and UND Night. Currently UND Red and UND Blue run similar routes on campus.
The route idea would make the UND Red route focus on connecting students living along 43rd Street, Stanford Road and the west part of University Avenue with the campus buildings further east along University Avenue and the UND Blue route focus on connecting students living in the student housing along University Avenue with the campus buildings on the southern part of campus along Campus Road.
Additional route ideas on UND would be to discontinue the UND Night route and replace it with microtransit service and to modify Route Purple to no longer serve south of University Avenue to avoid any challenging left turns.
Some more short and long-term recommendations entail maintenance and growth of CAT ridership; transit fleet and technology recommendations; and fare, pass or transfer policy changes to increase ridership or funding.
The Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Metropolitan Planning Organization has also been gathering public input on what riders would like to see changed. A recent survey that wrapped up on May 6, asked for rider's thoughts on the CAT service improvement ideas, drafted CAT goals and allowed survey takers to share any additional recommendations. Senior Planner with the MPO, Teri Kouba, said 60 survey responses were received.
“This isn't too bad because the information we wanted feedback on impacts current riders,” Kouba said. “While the survey is closed the information we asked about will be in the final plan, there will be a comment period for that in the future.”
Kouba said when the plan is finalized the recommendations made are implemented typically when funding becomes available.
“If funding is available they can implement, but sometimes more in depth information is needed and it could take another study to get those details,” Kouba said.”
A draft of the transit development plan is set to be out by early fall and the entire process is anticipated to be complete by November.