Ridership up after Cedar Rapids Transit changes

Next big change: Evening service planned for 2020 or 2021 budget year

People board buses Nov. 28 at the Ground Transportation Center in downtown Cedar Rapids. Bus system changes that began July 31 included having fewer routes that had to go out of their way to the downtown center. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
People board buses Nov. 28 at the Ground Transportation Center in downtown Cedar Rapids. Bus system changes that began July 31 included having fewer routes that had to go out of their way to the downtown center. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Ridership on Cedar Rapids public transit has increased four months into a major overhaul of routes, bus stops and times.

The number of rides is up about 6 percent compared with the same point last year. Transit changes went into effect July 31.

“Ridership is up, and we are not hearing any real requests for changes like we were hearing beforehand,” said Brad DeBrower, Cedar Rapids Transit manager. “But I think it is too early to say” whether the changes have been successful.

From July through November 2016, 489,666 rides were provided compared with 518,165 rides this year, DeBrower said.

The changes have worked well, he said. Some minor tweaks to times will come in June, but nothing more than what DeBrower said is typical each year.

Among the biggest differences was an increase in pickups at each stop every 15 minutes on route 5, which runs on First Avenue from downtown Cedar Rapids to Lindale Mall. It’s the most popular bus line.

Two new circulator routes, 20 and 30, enable riders to travel between northern Cedar Rapids, Marion and Hiawatha without trekking downtown to connections at the Ground Transportation Center.

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“This is much better,” said James Valliere of Cedar Rapids, who rides the route 5 bus. “It comes every 15 minutes between five buses.”

DeBrower said the increased frequency on route 5 is the biggest factor in increased ridership. Route 5 long has been the busiest route, and riders had been reporting missing buses because they were full.

“Frequency draws ridership,” he said.

The only significant future change being planned is evening service, DeBrower said. Buses now stop running about 6 p.m.

Evening service is anticipated for the 2020 or 2021 budget year, he said.

“Our biggest hope so far is some level of evening service,” DeBrower said. “We are not looking to do any more major changes until we figure out how to go about doing that.”

The Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization allocates 20 percent of the federal money it gets to roads, 80 percent to bike amenities and none to public transit. But the model will shift in 2020-24, to 50 percent for roads, 30 percent for bikes and 20 percent for public transit.

That change is expected to create an estimated $4.1 million extra for transit over four years and could shake loose money for night service,

Last summer’s overhaul didn’t affect fares or operating costs. It cut off less popular segments and eliminated about 125 of the 1,110 bus stops.

Riders from northeast Cedar Rapids and Marion heading to downtown Cedar Rapids probably experienced the greatest inconvenience. Rather than taking a single bus, they now must get a transfer at Lindale Mall.

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Lon Pluckhahn, city manager for Marion, said he has not received any feedback about the changes. It has created more opportunities for access to public transit in Marion, he said. The next expansion would be another stop east of Highway 13 and potentially extend the line to meet a new residential development on the east part of town, he said.

“The changes seem to be working out fine,” Pluckhahn said. “Going to the loop route increased the frequency of buses around the city, so there are more opportunities to hop on.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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