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City bus system may cut stops for better times

For bus riders, it could come to a choice: getting on a bus when they want it or where they want it. Unlike in some other cities, riders of Cities Area Transit can flag down a bus and get on at any point along its route. It is convenient for peop...

Cities Area Transit

For bus riders, it could come to a choice: getting on a bus when they want it or where they want it.

Unlike in some other cities, riders of Cities Area Transit can flag down a bus and get on at any point along its route. It is convenient for people who do not live near bus stops or are not at a stop when they see a bus coming.

The drawback is that the unscheduled stops mean that buses often cannot make their designated stops on time.

Eliminating flagged stops is one option identified by a study of the transit system to improve the system.

"It's not conducive to a system where you're faced with a bus arriving late all the time," said Earl Haugen, executive director of the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

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Planning efficiency

The MPO recently drafted a five-year plan for the transit system, a requirement for federal funding, Haugen said. One issue the plan tries to address is the inability of many routes to maintain their schedules and 30-minute waits between buses. An hour can pass between buses on some routes.

The study rated the on-time performance of four of the system's seven routes as poor.

Among the options to improve service is reduce the number of stops buses make at Columbia Mall and the Altru Health System campus.

"It can be up to 20 different stops," depending on how many times riders flag a bus to stop at Altru, said MPO Planner Teri Kouba.

Planners are trying to figure out how many stops buses could make at Altru without throwing off their schedules but without requiring riders to walk long distances around the large campus. Kouba said Altru runs a courtesy van and health system officials have been working the MPO to accommodate changes in the transit system.

The transit services for elderly and handicapped riders will still offer door-to-door service.

Adding vs. cutting

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But even with these fixes, it will still be difficult for the bus system to serve the southwest portion of Grand Forks and maintain a 30-minute schedule, Haugen said. The MPO is considering two options, though neither one is without problems.

One option would be to eliminate service to the area west of Columbia Mall, allowing buses to maintain their schedule elsewhere. That would be unfair to the people living in the area, who would still contribute to the cost of the service through taxes, Haugen said.

The other option would be to put another bus on the street. That would add $200,000 to the annual transit budget, something planners would like to avoid.

"We're kind of short one bus," Haugen said.

The MPO is also tweaking routes at several places to improve efficiency, and it has created a website where riders can see proposed changes: www.gf-egftransitplan.blogspot.com .

Routes around UND could also change to alleviate the congestion on University Avenue that slows buses down, possibly by shifting the route from University Avenue to Sixth Avenue North.

Haugen said the MPO is working with the university to coordinate its shuttle service with the transit bus service and to reduce redundancy.

The MPO is also developing other options as well and none of the changes are definite yet.

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"Nothing's been decided," Haugen said.

Reach Bjorke at (701) 780-1117; (800) 477-6572, ext. 117; or send e-mail to cbjorke@gfherald.com .

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