By CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — Ottumwa Transit officials hope the newly changed routes and schedules improve service instead of throwing bumps in the road.
Ottumwa Transit executive director Dave Silverio said the first day of new routes went off without a hitch.
"One of the biggest changes they're going to notice is if they ride the north route, after they're done at Indian Hills, it will take them straight to Walmart," he said.
Before, the bus would return downtown after Indian Hills, where riders would have to transfer to the south commercial route to get to Walmart.
"This cuts that whole step out and takes them straight to where they want to go," he said.
That's the overall goal of the entire redesign: "trying to get people where they want to go quicker and easier."
Robert LaPoint, transit advisory board chair, rode some of the routes Wednesday. The routes and schedules were last tweaked in 2011, and the last major change was in the mid-1990s, he said.
"The city consulted with Bob Bourne to come down, look at our routes and come up with a way we could enhance ridership," LaPoint said.
Bob Bourne is a longtime transit consultant who made CyRide, Ames' transit system, the popular system it is today.
During the last year, public forums were held, surveys were conducted and data was analyzed to form the new routes.
"We had to look at the ridership and where we really wanted to go," Silverio said.
One problem transit officials wanted to avoid was the downtown bus zone continuing to be a "meeting place," LaPoint said.
"Now three buses go out to the mall or Walmart area so people won't have to wait around downtown," he said.
Before the change, every route converged at the downtown bus shelter, congesting the area and forcing some riders to wait long periods of time before their transfer bus showed up.
"The overall effect is we'll have less people sitting downtown, waiting for a bus to take them to where they want to go," he said. "With everything, I'm sure we're going to experience some bumps in the road. Every time you start something new, something doesn't go right."
While LaPoint has heard some concerns from the public about the new routes, he said they have to be implemented at this point since the City Council approved them.
"But they will be monitored to see what ways we can make it better," he said. "We're not just going to change them and say, 'All right, folks, they're changed and you have to live with it.' If it turns out to be a disaster, we'll have to do something to make sure it's not a disaster."
Before the change, riders' main complaint was wanting to get to their destination faster. Now, routes have been streamlined to provide a more direct route.
"They can conceivably, on paper, get to where they want to go quicker," LaPoint said.
In the future, transit is also considering offering evening service and increasing the number of routes running on Saturdays.
In 2011, Bourne was brought in to look at reducing routes and "getting things pulled in a little bit because of questionable funding," Silverio said.
"But that's all done now," he said. "The DOT has been all paid back and we don't have that problem anymore. We're moving toward the future of possibly bringing back all four Saturday routes, doing some evening stuff, but it will all have to be phased in. We're doing this one thing at a time."
Bus drivers have also begun counting how many riders use the bike racks.
"We're just trying to enhance what we had, and hopefully that's what will happen and the bumps won't be too severe," LaPoint said.
Brochures with the new routes and timetables are available at City Hall, all Hy-Vee stores, Walmart, Indian Hills Community College or from any bus driver. The schedule is also available online at ottumwatransit.com under the "Services and Schedules" menu.
For more information about the new routes and schedules, call Ottumwa Transit at 641-683-0695.
For the complete route map and schedule, go to www.ottumwacourier.com/transit.