Bus study moves on to route reviews with release of report

Brian Horinka has been driving Minot’s streets to test possible new bus routes. The city bus superintendent is working with consultants on the next phase of a transit study that involves crafting transit system improvements that the public has indicated it wants to see.

Consultants Nelson/Nygaard of Portland, Ore., have produced a “State of the System” report based on current operations and public and rider surveys. The report is available at www.minotbusstudy.com by clicking on “downloads.” Another round of public meetings or open houses is scheduled for the end of September once a draft plan for bus system improvements is completed.

Horinka said a final plan could go to the Minot City Council in November. The plan will include short-term, mid-term and long-term suggestions.

“There are short-term recommendations that we can do very soon to make things better without really having to do a lot of budgetary changes,” Horinka said. Some of those changes might include tweaking of existing routes or shifting routes away from areas that don’t see much ridership to areas that would better benefit the public.

Minot City Bus currently operates three types of service: early morning, midday and afternoon.

The early morning and midday services are flag-stop services, meaning that riders may flag a driver at any intersection along a route, but there are no designated stops.

Early morning routes operate between 6:52 a.m. and 8:40 a.m. There are nine routes that primarily connect residential neighborhoods with the elementary, middle, and high schools in Minot. Ridership averages 144 riders a day.

There are six midday routes that operate between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. that connect at the Town & Country Shopping Center. Daily ridership averages 250 riders a day.

Afternoon service provides trips starting at several schools in Minot, where riders board and then are taken to their destinations. Afternoon trips do not follow a specified route but rather make drop-offs according to the destinations of each of the riders each day. The service averages 240 riders a day.

Horinka said the “State of the System” report produced valuable public comments in determining the type of changes needed.

“There were a few surprises. I was surprised at the number of people that responded to the survey that have never been on a city bus and some that didn’t even realize the city bus existed. We had a large number of people who never used the city bus system that took the time to fill out the surveys. Even the people who didn’t use it believe it is something that’s important to the community,” he said.

The community survey showed one-third of respondents were not familiar at all with either Minot City Transit or Souris Basin Transit, which provides dial-a-ride, paratransit services. The survey respondents included 55 percent who reported no one in their households have ever used the transit system, and of those, most reported a lack of awareness of services. Others don’t use the services because the timing and destinations don’t meet their needs or they prefer to drive. However, 98 percent agreed that public transit is a necessary community service.

Horinka said the surveys suggested that more people might ride the bus if the right types of changes are in place.

“I think that shows there’s a great need for a better system than what we have on the street right now,” he said.

Highlights of the report included:

Of survey respondents who had used the transit system, 48 percent used it for school and 28 percent for work. Other uses were shopping, 22 percent, medical appointment, 18 percent, and social/recreation, 17 percent. College or technical school accounted for 5 percent.

Ridership has fluctuated over the past five years, with a high of more than 151,000 in 2008 to a low of about 123,000 in 2010.

September is consistently the highest ridership month.

More than half of the Dial-a-Ride survey respondents indicate that they use the service for work trips.

Of riders surveyed in February, 24 percent of respondents reported they would not have made the trip if the bus wasn’t available.

Transit productivity (passengers per revenue hour) in Minot is relatively low at 7.7 compared to six peer cities reviewed. Productivities ranged from a low of 6.3 in Bismarck to 23.6 in Walla Walla, Wash.