CEDAR RAPIDS — It was 8:20 a.m. Wednesday and particularly chilly for mid-November, but Kathy Linden sat cozy in the front seat of a bright blue 380 Express bus.
The Marion resident has weekly appointments at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, but doesn’t own a car.
So the Corridor’s new Cedar Rapids-to-Iowa City bus service means she no longer is forced to get a ride from friends.
“It’s been a godsend,” Linden said as the bus departed the downtown Cedar Rapids Ground Transportation Center. “I’m just hoping ridership builds so they can keep it going.”
Linden was the only passenger on the bus that morning. But numbers provided by the East Central Iowa Council of Governments show the service is growing in popularity. The number of daily rides more than doubled over the course of the service’s first month, from 64 on Oct. 1 to 137 rides on Oct. 31.
The service — which connects transportation centers in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids and includes stops at Kirkwood Community College’s main campus, Coralville’s Iowa River Landing and the UI Hospitals and Clinics — was created to help alleviate traffic during construction of the Interstate 80/I-380 interchange project, expected to be completed in 2025. The Iowa Department of Transportation will cover the program’s estimated cost of about $1.5 million annually from 2019 to 2025 — but there is a fare that can be paid in cash with exact change only, or paid over a smartphone app.
All told, a one-way trip takes about one hour.
The route has proved successful enough to warrant the addition of a temporary Saturday service, to connect Linn County shoppers to Coralville’s Coral Ridge Mall during the holiday season.
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Saturday service begins Nov. 24 and will run every Saturday until Dec. 29. That should help build weekday ridership, said Brock Grenis, transit administrator and planner with the East Central Iowa Council of Governments.
“The Saturday seasonal service is meant to help promote and spread awareness of the weekday service, so hopefully folks that haven’t used it during the week will have a chance to try it,” Grenis said.
Grenis said while an approximately 20-percent weekly growth in ridership in the service’s first month is a positive, the hope is to continue to get more people on 380 Express buses.
Kirkwood’s free parking a big draw
Gary Lindsey, a motor coach operator with 380 Express, started driving morning routes with the commuter service in mid-October, a few weeks after it began. He said he’s witnessed firsthand the slow and steady growth in ridership. The earlier routes often are the busiest, he said.
The bus service saw nearly 2,600 rides in its first month, according to data from the council. Routes operating between 5:20 and 7:20 a.m. and between 1:50 and 4:20 p.m. saw the most rides over the first month.
The weekly average ridership increased from about 80 people in 380 Express’ first week to 132 people in the service’s last full week of October.
Lindsey said the route’s Kirkwood Park and Ride stop — the only one currently with free parking — has easily been the most popular.
Of the nearly 2,600 rides last month, just over 700 boarded at Kirkwood. All but 13 of those rides were heading south toward Iowa City, according to the data.
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Lindsey said the availability of parking might be the biggest factor to the stop’s popularity and additional free parking zones might help further boost ridership numbers.
“I think it would be even more popular if there was free parking downtown,” he said.
Grenis said most feedback received so far has been positive, but agreed that free parking at additional stops could benefit additional passengers.
“In a perfect world, every stop would have free parking. However, that’s just not realistic with connecting downtown Cedar Rapids and downtown Iowa City. Parking is in big demand and it’s not cheap,” Grenis said. “It’s kind of a balancing act — you want to connect the major destinations, but you also want to service easily accessible departure points.”
For those like Linden, who doesn’t own a car, the service provides a connection to hospital visits, shopping or classes at Kirkwood.
But it does take a time commitment.
Linden’s Wednesday started at about 7:10 a.m. when she took a city bus to Lindale Mall, where she transferred to a different bus before getting to the 380 Express bus stop at the Ground Transportation Center.
From there, it’s about an hour to her destination at UIHC.
The entire trip takes nearly two hours, but Linden said she doesn’t mind. With a disability discount, a one-way ticket is only $1.75.
“You can’t even get lunch for that,” she said.
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