More people have been using the Minot city bus system to get across town, according to statistics from the public works department.
Statistics for the Minot City Bus show ridership is up 16 percent for the first nine months of the year, which includes nearly a 43 percent increase during the third quarter ending Sept. 30.
The big change, though, is in adult ridership, which is up 105 percent for the first nine months 111 percent in just the last three months. So far this year, the number of adult riders, 37,489, exceeds last year's total adult ridership of 23,742.
A passenger gets off a Minot city bus at Town & Country Center Tuesday.
"We are getting many requests many more than we used to with all the new people moving into town for extended hours," said Brian Horinka, bus superintendent. "We are trying to catch up. We are in the process of hiring a consulting firm to do a transit analysis."
The analysis will look short-term, medium term and long-term in considering the need for new routes, extended routes, extended hours and fare prices. The study will determine how to best serve the most people and the elderly and disabled riders who most need service.
The biggest hindrance to adding more routes or extending hours is lack of bus drivers.
"We have a very difficult time keeping up. It's very difficult to find drivers," Horinka said.
The city hires part-time drivers and will train those who don't already hold the required Commercial Driver's License.
With Minot's growth, there is demand for routes into new parts of town. People who move here from larger cities often look for the same kind of transit services that they became accustomed to in more metropolitan areas, Horinka said. A major factor in the ridership is the number of foreign students working in local service jobs who use the bus system.
The increase to 106,155 passengers through September still isn't fully reversing the decline that has been occurring since 2007, when ridership totaled 152,314 passengers. But the bus service has seen stronger numbers since last spring than it has seen during the same period in previous years.
"I think gas prices are driving a lot of my inquiries, but I don't know how much it's affected the actual ridership because the system we have in place doesn't really help a lot of the people," Horinka said, noting that the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. service doesn't accommodate most work schedules.
People commonly use the bus for school, medical appointments and shopping. The number of school students who ride the early and after-school routes has continued to drop each year since 2007, as has the number of senior citizen riders, statistics show.
"We have modified a couple of the routes in the early morning for additional school service to get out into Eagles Landing," Horinka said. Developing a feasible route to some newer developments just hasn't been possible, though, and there are places that the buses can't get to as a practical matter.
Horinka explained that the average route that used to run 22 to 23 minutes now takes 28 to 29 minutes. Sometimes buses run late due to heavier traffic and more road construction. The tighter schedule eliminates any down time for drivers between the half-hour runs. To extend any routes means more riding time for passengers, who already may ride as much as an hour if they have to switch buses.
The analysis to be conducted will help figure out ways to overcome some of these problems. But study results aren't expected before early next summer, and then the city will have to budget in the coming year for any changes that affect the financial operation.
The bus service hasn't raised its fares in three years, although fuel and other costs have risen, Horinka said. The service has benefited financially, though, from selling advertising wraps on the buses. Two buses currently have wraps. The city is in the process of buying a new bus, which also will have a wrap when it comes into operation.