Staff Columnist

Make extended bus hours a priority

People board buses at the Ground Transportation Center in Cedar Rapids in November 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
People board buses at the Ground Transportation Center in Cedar Rapids in November 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

There is no greater need in the Cedar Rapids metro than finding a way to extend public transit hours.

If funding from the Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization is consistent, Brad DeBrower, Cedar Rapids transit manager, believes he has a plan. All regional leaders — city council members, county supervisors, business organizers, etc. — must embrace and advocate for this plan to come to fruition. The sooner, the better.

Limited transit service is holding our region back. And, more important, holding some of our community members back. It’s also creating dangerous situations for the very community members we should most want to support.

In just one week of exclusively riding public transit, I met several people who were working to better themselves. I met young women attending cosmetology classes, and young men attending Kirkwood classes. For young people likes these, limited bus hours meant a fairly easily commute to classes and a long night of walking or biking home, often on some of the city’s most busy thoroughfares.

I met parents on the bus who had difficulty attending children’s evening school activities, such as concerts and sporting events. In some cases, the barriers denied the child the opportunity to participate.

Families who rely on public transit are nearly always strapped for time. Picking up a gallon of milk on your way home from work, even if you are blessed enough to work a 9-to-5 job, isn’t always simple or easy. After-hours networking with co-workers, participating in community discussions (including city government meetings), joining a civic organization, or simply grabbing dinner and a movie become an exercise.

Others, such as the elderly and those with disabilities, use bus service almost exclusively.

For the fortunate ones, personal budgets allow for occasional cab fare or Uber rides. Those less fortunate either forgo such “luxuries,” rely on others for transportation or use their feet.

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In the state’s second-largest city, the situation should be unacceptable and embarrassing. There should be affordable transportation options for those doing shift work. There should be opportunities for all residents to participate in local government. Transportation shouldn’t be a barrier to workforce training, or participation in school activities.

Ridership in the most recent fiscal year rose 6.7 percent for Cedar Rapids Transit, which also services Marion and Hiawatha. That’s a total of 1.27 million rides, due in large part to recent changes that have increased bus frequency in the busiest parts of the metro. There is no denying need exists, or that efficient and convenient transit is popular. But those realities haven’t always been reflected in local budget decisions.

The Corridor MPO currently spends more money on trails than on transit, which is actually (and sadly) an improvement since it previously provided no transit funding.

Maintaining this small slice of federal transportation dollars should be automatic, because this should be a place that values all of its residents enough to ensure they can all participate in government, community and life.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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