Residents get first look at transit study’s progress

Minot residents appreciate having a city bus system, even if they aren’t regular users, according to early survey results in an ongoing transit study.

The city and consultants Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates of Portland, Ore., and partner Ulteig, Inc., held an open house in Dakota Square Mall Thursday to give residents a look at the analysis going into eventual recommendations for the transit system. The study started in January and should be completed by September.

A similar open house will take place today from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. outside the Beaver Dam in the Minot State University Student Union.

Researchers want to know who is using the system and how it is being used, along with changes that people desire so a system can be developed that is adaptible to city growth well into the future.

About 337 people so far have completed the online survey at (minotbusstudy.com). People who complete the survey by April 19 will be entered into a sweepstakes for two $50 gift cards, although the survey will continue to be open past that date.

Scott Chapman, senior associate with Nelson\Nygaard, said the number of completed surveys is encouraging.

“It’s exceeding our expectations, and the community seems to be really engaged,” he said. “They are supportive of transit.”

Displays at the open house showed 2012 ridership was 136,951 passengers. That ridership was the highest in four years, although down from 151,169 riders in 2008. The city transit service boards an average of 10.4 passengers an hour.

The study shows where traffic is heaviest using call-ahead, on-demand service, which indicates areas where a city bus route might be welcomed. For instance, there’s a high interest in public transit to Cognizant, located in a part of northwest Minot where the city bus doesn’t run, Chapman said.

According to survey results, about 55 percent of those who ride do so at least two days a week, while 59 percent say evening hours are what they most want to see. People who don’t ride most commonly say the buses don’t go when and where they want to go.

The study also will incorporate information on traffic volume and street capacity into future recommendations. Understanding where and when streets get congested could factor into how bus routes are developed, said Joel Quanbeck with Ulteig, Fargo.

Brian Horinka, city bus superintendent, said he’s impressed with the study findings so far.

“It pretty much tells the story of where we are so we can easily figure out what we need to improve and how we need to improve,” he said.

Although the study has uncovered no big surprises, the public input is valuable, he said. Nearly 60 percent of those who have completed surveys have not been bus riders, and those are voices that the city needs to hear, he said.

The city needs to know what type of system would entice them to ride, Horinka said.

“It’s a very economical way to get around town if we can build the system to where it appeals to and is available to the most population,” he said.

The next step in the study is to develop improved service alternatives that will be unveiled at a public meeting in June.