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Public transit hoping to update bus fare systems, backup generator in Grand Forks

After implementing new routes and unleashing new buses earlier this summer, Cities Area Transit (CAT) already is planning for what comes next. CAT Mobility Manager Ali Rood told Grand Forks City Council members on Monday the North Dakota Departme...

Cities Area Transit recently purchased new New Flyer Xcelsior buses to be used in both Grand Forks and East Grand Forks routes. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
Cities Area Transit purchased new New Flyer Xcelsior buses earlier this summer to be used in both Grand Forks and East Grand Forks routes. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

After implementing new routes and unleashing new buses earlier this summer, Cities Area Transit (CAT) already is planning for what comes next.

CAT Mobility Manager Ali Rood told Grand Forks City Council members on Monday the North Dakota Department of Transportation announced it has $2.5 million available in leftover funding.

CAT plans to request nearly $1.2 million for 10 projects, most of which entail replacing assets like bus parts and shelters at a 20 percent local share.

"One of the big things that we're going after is upgrading our fare collection equipment," Rood said, including fare boxes ($200,000), software ($90,000) and surveillance servers ($16,300). CAT hasn't touched most of these items since 2009, Rood said, when the department bought and installed them.

"So, some of the newer forms of payment like using QR codes or different fare payments apps on your phone, or even debit or credit cards, would be compatible with these newer fare boxes," Rood said.

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CAT also plans to request funding toward a backup generator for its maintenance facility.

"In the event of an emergency or a weather event, we need to be able to have power to open our over head doors and make sure we have heat in our building," Rood said, "because often in emergency situations we need to still be operating."

During a citywide evacuation, for example, Rood referred to city buses as "important emergency assets."

CAT doesn't have a backup generator.
"It's more of a pre-emptive investment to make sure when we need it, it's there," Rood said.
Council members will officially vote on CAT's request Oct. 1, after granting the department preliminary approval Monday night. Next, the Metropolitan Planning Organization will look over CAT's application before sending it to the DOT before Oct. 19.

"When we get notice of whether or not we receive funding, they'll (the DOT) let us know which specific projects they're willing to fund," Rood said. "Most of the time they come back and say they'll fund the top three or four priorities, but you know they could go down the list and bypass, and decide to fund a low priority project just because it's inline with the DOT's goals for a given year."

Further down the CAT's list of priorities, the department included a $815,000 project to buy two heavy duty buses for a UND campus circulator route. Rood said CAT and UND still are discussing these routes, and both parties have yet to finalize any plans.

"We are assessing the impact of the route changes that went into effect in July," Rood said. "We expected a lot of feedback, as it was a big change, and we've gotten a lot of feedback and some requests for modifications, for the new system."

Rood said the feedback her department has received-some positive, some not-isn't enough for CAT's process of assessing impact.

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"That's why in October we're rolling out this larger public input campaign because we need to get input from many more users before we can assess the full impact," she said. "That campaign will include public meetings and open-ended surveys responders can send back to CAT."

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