North Liberty bus route inches closer

Leaders hope intracity route could become a regular service

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North Liberty’s first intracity bus route could launch in a matter of weeks.

North Liberty city planner Dean Wheatley said the hope is the service — which was approved as a pilot program by the city council earlier this year — becomes a regular city service.

“The anticipation is, if it is successful, and I guess success will be measured by how many riders we end up carrying and ultimately the cost benefit calculations of the program, then the anticipation is it would be funded into the future,” he said. “We wouldn’t throw something out there and take it back because somebody is going to be using it.”

A draft of the contract between the county and North Liberty calls for a bus leaving Johnson County’s Secondary Road facility on Melrose Avenue at 10 a.m. The bus would reach the North Liberty Community Pantry, 89 N. Jones Boulevard, at 10:25 a.m. and then make five loops on a predetermined route before returning to Secondary Roads at 2 p.m.

The fare for the bus service will be $2 per trip. The county will provide a bus from its 26-vehicle SEATS fleet, while North Liberty covers all costs.

The North Liberty council in March approved dedicating $50,000 to fund the pilot program.

However, federal transit rules require cities to provide paratransit services whenever they provide fixed route services, so North Liberty also needs to expand its traditional SEATS services to include 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Wheatley said any added cost for midday paratransit rides will be known after the service begins operating. Tom Brase, SEATS director, said the SEATS contracts with several communities in Johnson County for paratransit services, but has never provided fixed route services before.

Brase said Friday he was working with East Central Iowa Council of Governments and the Iowa Department of Transportation to make sure the contract is ready to receive final approval from the Johnson County Board of Supervisors in the coming weeks.

After that, the North Liberty City Council will need to vote on the contract.

Johnson County’s Supervisors on Wednesday said they were in support of the contract, with some minor wording changes.

However, Johnson County Supervisor Janelle Rettig questioned whether or not the service will be used much at all, considering the midday time frame.

“I just don’t think there’s going to be much ridership. If you wanted to design a system to fail, I think this would be it,” she said.

Wheatley said the city council will review the service next summer and make possible updates as necessary.

“We’re really kind of expecting it to be refined as time goes on,” he said.

North Liberty’s only other transit system entails a single route from downtown Iowa City to North Liberty provided through a contract with Coralville. The service, came with the cost of $80,000 in 2014, largely because of to low ridership.

The route started in 2006 and averages 68 riders a day between both trips, but five to 12 of those are picked up in Coralville along the way, Wheatley said. The average annual ridership is 13,600 people.

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