Local News

City Link Ridership More Than Doubles

City Link ridership has more than doubled since its inception nearly three years ago, and transit officials hope the numbers continue to rise as they head into the typically busier summer months.

Date: 5/26/2010

Posted by Finney County Transit on 5/27/2010


Published 5/26/2010 in Local News

By SHAJIA AHMAD

sahmad@gctelegram.com

 Laurie Sisk/Telegram Paula Trampe, 7, and Neal Tovar, 9, wait  with driver Jennifer Gribble on a City Link bus at the transfer station  on Tuesday afternoon.Laurie Sisk/Telegram Paula Trampe, 7, and Neal Tovar, 9, wait with driver Jennifer Gribble on a City Link bus at the transfer station on Tuesday afternoon.

The fixed bus route system that began making rounds along Garden City's streets in September 2007 has been hosting on average about 4,100 riders per month since the start of the year. That's about 800 more per month than this time in 2009.

Local transit authorities said they expect those numbers to continue rising: The Youth-Go-Free program, which began operating last Thursday and runs through Aug. 20, allows children younger than 16 to ride free when accompanied by at least one fare-paying customer.

Despite its lack of revenue generation, the program was implemented last summer because of the fiscal burdens on families with several children, according to Bonnie Burgardt, director of Finney County Transit, or FIT.

"We did it in light of the fact that kids are out of school, and now moms or dads have to decide whether to leave the kids at home and take care of their (errands)," Burgardt said. "Now they don't have to decide 'Do I leave the kids at home alone?' Even at 50 cents per kid for four or five kids and two trips, it can add up."

About 14 percent of Finney County residents live at or below the federal poverty level, compared to 11 percent statewide, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Burgardt said she had hoped this summer to implement a parallel program to the free summer youth ride program to allow children younger than 11 to be able to ride with their peers or siblings who also are younger than 16 by providing paid bus monitors during the summer months.

"What we ran into last year was there's a kid that's 12 and they've got a little brother that's 8. The 12-year-old could ride, but the 8-year-old couldn't because there was no one to ride with him," Burgardt said. "So that limits how many kids can actually utilize the program."

That proposal to KanWorks, however, was not approved because of liability issues and safety concerns for very young children, the transit director added. Under current policy, only children 11 and older can ride unaccompanied.

Children five and younger always ride free, but also must be accompanied by a guardian.

Along with FIT's para-transit bus service, called Mini Bus, that serves the elderly or disabled door to door, the public transportation agency provided more than 60,900 total rides in 2009, compared to about 43,900 rides in 2008.

The para-transit bus service -- in operation long before City Link's launch -- has maintained a fairly steady ridership rate: Mini Bus has carried between 1,000 and 1,400 users per month for the last three years.

While most agencies hope their para-transit service numbers will either decrease or stay the same because of the expenses of serving passengers with disabilities, Burgardt said there are still plenty of resources at FIT to provide more Mini Bus services, and she is hoping for increased future ridership of the Mini Bus service, as well. The para-transit service currently serves about 400 clients in the county.

"Our drivers will help you if you're unsteady on your feet or to carry your groceries in," she said. "When you get to a place where you can't drive anymore because of your age or vision, until then you don't realize the buses are there."

The first bus in a fleet of 12 new buses, provided by a $760,290 federal stimulus award, is expected to arrive in July. Buses no longer in operation either will be sold or leased to surrounding counties, used as back-up vehicles, or possibly even be utilized if City Link extends its Monday-through-Friday service hours, Burgardt said.

A new computerized dispatching system also is expected to go live the second week of June, she said.

Few communities in the state other than urban cities have fixed-route bus systems like in Finney County, and fewer than 10 of 19 southwest counties -- a group of counties representing one of 15 districts of the Kansas Rural Transit Assistance Program -- have call-and-demand bus transportation available to the public, according to state transportation officials.

By creating a local dispatch center in Finney County, state officials hope to not only save operating costs for a possible southwest Kansas bus system, but coordinate rides between counties, as well, state transportation officials have said.

City Link will not operate on Memorial Day.


For more information: http://www.gctelegram.com/news/city-link-ridership-5-26-10