Simplified: The city is looking to switch things up in who provides public transit, and some City Council members have their own ideas for changes they'd like to see, as well.
Why it matters
- The city budgeted a little over $14 million for the transit system last year, and the planning department is asking for $14.6 million in 2024. But it’s likely that number will change as the city explores new companies to take over the contract for busing, Planning Director Jeff Eckhoff told councilors Tuesday.
- Public transit has been a tough nut to crack for the city. In recent years, the city has tested on-demand ridership, collected more ridership data, offered free rides to kids, rolled out mobile ticketing at more.
- Ridership is up, Eckhoff said, but the city still ends up spending millions annually on a system very few in town choose as their mode of transportation. Instead, many regular bus riders are those who have no other option.
“Everybody’s trying to fix transit … I don’t know if you can fix it,” Eckhoff said. “But you can certainly make it better.”
What changes are coming?
The city earlier this year put out a request for proposals for public transit. The current contract expires at the end of the year, and the administration wanted to see what other options might be out there.
- In total, two proposals were submitted, Eckhoff said. And the council is expected to see the specifics of those proposals later this week.
- He also noted that the city was hoping for at least one or two more proposals to choose from, but they've got two options.
The specifics of what change a new contractor would bring remain to be seen.
What do councilors want to see?
Councilor Curt Soehl said he’d like to see specific numbers on what it would cost to pilot electric buses.
Councilor Greg Neitzert said he’d like to see the city commit to fewer routes with more frequency — buses coming every 15 minutes rather than every 30-60.
And Councilor Rich Merkouris said the whole on-demand system is “a mess.”
- Merkouris asked what the impact would be on the budget if the city just stopped doing on-demand services and stuck to fixed routes until it can find a better solution. To that, Eckhoff said the budgetary impact would be minimal.
What happens next?
Once the city chooses a contractor, we’ll learn more about what services will cost in the coming year and any changes coming to operations.