116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Consolidated bus routes, shorter wait times and a pilot program for a Sunday service will be rolled out in the coming months as Iowa City implements an overhauled transit system.
The Iowa City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday night to approve the Iowa City Area Transit Study Plan and recommended transit system changes. Mayor Pro Tem Mazahir Salih voted against implementing the plan.
Under the new system, Iowa City Transit will reduce its routes from 26 to 13, said Darian Nagle-Gamm, the city’s director of transportation services. The new routes will focus on arterial streets and be out-and-back — rather than circuitous routes that divert into local streets. Areas of the city with low ridership were absorbed into other routes or service was reallocated, Nagle-Gamm said.
“Our mission really has been to make transit more reliable for those who depend upon it,” she said.
Nagle-Gamm said the goal of the revised transit plan is faster, more frequent and more reliable service, as well as simpler schedules. To that end, routes will have the same schedule, regardless of the time of day or day of the week, she said. Buses will run more frequently.
“All buses will run every 30 minutes during the peak times and two routes will run every 15-20 minutes,” Nagle-Gamm said. “Over half of the routes will have 30-minute service or less during midday.”
Nearly half of the routes will run until 10 p.m. All of the routes will run on Saturdays and a two-year pilot program will see those routes operating on Sundays, as well.
The changes are the result of a $225,000 transportation study conducted by Nelson Nygaard, a consulting firm. Coralville Transit and the University of Iowa’s Cambus system were also studied.
The goals of the study were to remove barriers to transit use, improve coordination and increase ridership. Despite setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the city maintains a goal of doubling ridership in the next decade. Last fiscal year, Iowa City Transit served 1.15 million passengers.
The study launched in 2019 and Nagle-Gamm said the city and consulting firm had more than 4,600 points of contact with the community during the process.
Iowa City and Coralville also have coordinated so that all Iowa City bus passes can be used on Coralville Transit and patrons can transfer for free to Coralville Transit. Additionally, Iowa City’s new fare structure includes a 50 percent discount for children and free rides for those 65 and older, disabled or on Medicaid.
Approval of the revised transit system took a detour during the council meeting when Salih sought to delay the vote. Salih said there were questions from the public about the bus schedule, which is not yet available.
“We need more people to look at the current proposal and see if that is going to work for them or not,” Salih said.
She also urged the council to make the bus free for any low-income individual. However, her proposal to direct city staff to implement the fare changes did not garner support from the rest of the council, noting that they did not have a clear definition of what constitutes low-income or what the financial implications would be.
“I don’t think it is prudent or responsible for the council to make a decision that could have significant financial ramifications without understanding what that is,” said council member Susan Mims. “I want the analysis before I make the decision.”
City Manager Geoff Fruin said an entirely fare-free system for all riders is something the city remains interested in and could be implemented in the future, but urged the council to move forward with the transit plan for now, knowing adjustments can be made later.
“It’s exciting to work on,” Fruin said. “I think we’re headed in the right direction. We can’t do everything at once. We have to take these in stages.”
Nagle-Gamm said the city will finalize and publish the new bus schedules later this month or by early July. The new fares and transfer policies will go into effect July 6 and the new routes will be implemented Aug. 2.
The city also will begin using four electric buses this fall and will implement Sunday service in late 2021 or 2022, Nagle-Gamm said.
In Cedar Rapids, officials had planned to roll out evening Cedar Rapids Transit service in 2020 — until the COVID-19 pandemic upended those plans.
Before committing to start evening service and bring back Saturday operations, Cedar Rapids Transit Manager Brad DeBrower previously said the city would reassess the circumstances sometime in 2021 to examine ridership levels and demand as the pandemic situation changed.
For now, Cedar Rapids fixed route buses operate weekdays from 5:15 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. There is no service on Saturday and Sunday.
Per federal guidelines, masks are still required.
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