The Ottumwa Courier

Wapello County

March 20, 2013

River Hills: stay downtown or go outside city limits?

City council considers options to change bus routes, alleviate congestion downtown


OTTUMWA — Tweaking bus routes

The council also heard from Bob Bourne, retired Ames Transit System administrator, who recently completed a route review for Ottumwa Transit.

“You have a nice system here,” Bourne said. “It functions well, it gets lots of people to jobs and schools. It’s a very effective system the way it is now.”

But some minor changes could be made to amp up ridership and avoid a plateau, he said.

“What’s driving the increase [in ridership] is the airport route, the Job Corps riders on that,” he said. “It’s gone from 4,000 to 26,000 in a one-year period. But eventually that’s going to plateau.”

If Ottumwa Transit chooses not to change its routes, it will have no negative impact on passengers, Bourne said.

“But you’re going to hit a plateau sometime this year where your ridership — that 20 percent growth you’ve been having — will flatten out to whatever it settles at,” he said. “There’s very little growth potential on that.”

One suggested way to increase ridership is unlimited access to Indian Hills students, where the college would pay a fixed price that would allow all students to ride free. This, in turn, would increase ridership, he said, which would then increase state and federal funding.

Minimal changes to the current system would keep it at 13 trips on each route per day at 50 minute intervals. But it would add a lunch hour trip on the airport route, where there is currently a two-hour gap. The second change would take the south residential route directly to Quincy Place Mall instead of the downtown bus stop. During his review, Bourne also heard a lot of requests for an evening demand service from 6-11 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“This could be a precursor to a fixed route,” he said. “We received many comments from passengers who have entry-level jobs and get done at 7 or 8 at night, then have to get a $10 ride home in a taxi.”

More significant changes to the system would get rid of route duplication and expand the area buses service. These changes could have the potential for a decrease in ridership, though, he noted, because it would lower daily trips from 13 to 11 on each route.

Changes in this proposal would reduce activity at the downtown bus stop, he said.

Adding a lunch hour trip would reduce waiting time downtown, as would parking buses right outside Ottumwa High School, rather than having the students flood down the East Second Street hill when school lets out to wait around downtown for 20 minutes before their bus arrives.

But right now, 35 percent of Ottumwa Transit’s ridership is K-12 students, “so we don’t want to mess that up at all,” he said.

“You’re the biggest growing system in the state, without a doubt,” he said. “You got an increase in state and federal funding this year, and you’re going to get another next year. I encourage you to reinvest that in the system.”

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