Buses. Please discuss: Transportation study to request public input in coming months

Minot residents will have a series of opportunities over the next several months to share their views on the city bus service and its future.

The City of Minot has hired a consultant to assess the current service, evaluate the needs and develop recommendations for improving transit service. The city received a state grant that is paying for 80 percent of the cost of the study.

“As the population has grown here in Minot – geographically as well as numerically – we realized that our system wasn’t really providing the services that we need it to,” said Brian Horinka, city bus superintendent.

The city’s physical size has increased beyond the reach of the existing bus system.

“It’s not as simple as adding more buses,” Horinka said. “It’s financially difficult and it’s logically difficult because of the trouble getting employees. Currently, we are short a couple of drivers and are back-filling with people from the vehicle maintenance shop.”

The city also has received many calls from people wanting service outside the established hours, which end with a 4:30 p.m. run. Workers often don’t head for home until 5 p.m. or later, though.

“The service we have in place doesn’t really accommodate them very well,” Horinka said.

The public will get its first chance to weigh in with their views in February. Riders will find survey forms available on the buses starting in mid-February. The survey will inquire about their bus use and seek their suggestions for changes.

An online questionnaire will give residents, whether riders or not, an avenue for expressing their views. The survey will seek to determine what people know about the bus service and reasons why they might or might not be using it. The city will release information on how to participate in the survey once it becomes available.

Consultants will present their initial assessment of the bus service in April at a public meeting where residents will be able to provide comment.

Representatives from the Portland, Ore., office of the consulting firm, Nelson Nygaard, have been in Minot this week to begin gathering information. They have been visiting with stakeholder groups, such as organizations serving people with disabilities.

“Some of the things we have heard so far is just the need for longer service hours,” said Paul Lutey, principal with Nelson Nygaard.

Scott Chapman, senior associate with Nelson Nygaard, said once the appropriate information is gathered, his firm will develop multiple proposals based on projected funding to operate the bus system. Those alternatives will be the topic of another public meeting, likely held toward the end of June. There also could be another online survey to collect feedback from additional residents, he said.

A draft report is expected to go to the city council around the end of August or early September.

The report will consider short-range, mid-range and long-term changes and provide not only several alternatives but options within those alternatives, Horinka said.

“Then it will be up to the council in the budget process to decide when and if and how much we want to grow the system, according to what we can do financially,” he said. “People can’t expect those changes overnight. It’s going to be a lengthy process, but I think the process is well worth doing.”

The earliest changes based on the study won’t come until sometime in 2014. However, Horinka said the bus system will implement minor changes as early as this summer to make routes more efficient. Heavier traffic on Minot’s streets has hindered the ability of buses to run on time so minor route changes are planned to adapt to the situation.