On demand program helps keep the wheels on the bus going round in Sioux Falls

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The City of Sioux Falls plans to spend more than $10 million in its 2021 budget to transport city residents to work, school or shopping.

The city’s 2021 budget includes $15.1 million in transit revenue but that includes $6 million in a general fund transfer, $750,000 in a sales tax fund transfer and $8.3 million in intergovernmental grants for the Sioux Area Metro (SAM) transit program.

Transit expenses are projected to be $13.4 million.

The has 12 bus routes that operate on a 30-minute or 60-minute headways six days per week for an average of 13 hours per weekday and 10 hours on Saturdays.  The routes cover 52 of the city’s 76 miles, according to the city’s transit page on the website.

A transit task force identified on demand routes as a possible way to help keep those routes operating, according to the city’s website.

The city launched on demand transit service on Saturdays. The on demand service allows riders to contact SAM for a specific pickup at a specific time and location.

“It’s a work in progress,” said Sam Trebilcock, a senior planner for the city.

Trebilcock said the city will continue with an on demand program as a pilot project.

City of Sioux Falls graphic.

So far, it’s already resulted in two new Saturday fixed routes.

“We looked at the origin and destination of riders were taking,” Trebilcock said. “We developed a route based on the where they were going.”

The added routes are from the bus station in the downtown to the Walmart on East 10th Street and from the downtown bus station to the Walmart near 41st Street on the west side of Sioux Falls.

Trebilcock said it would have been difficult to determine the need for a new bus route by monitoring fixed routes. Riders will transfer on fixed routes so it’s tougher to determine origins and destinations, he said.

A 2018 city survey said 72% of all riders transfer during their trip.

The city formed a Transit Core Team to study the city’s system and make recommendations on accessibility and financial stability, according to the Transit Innovation Project webpage.

Funding those rides has shifted significantly since 2012, according to the city. “Prior to 2012, about 80% of transit capital costs were covered by federal funding in Sioux Falls. Today, only about 20% of capital costs are covered by federal funding in Sioux Falls,” the city said on the transit page on the website.

A 2018 Congressional Research Service report said bus ridership declined from 2006 to 2016 in small market cities (large markets are New York City and similar). Part of the decline includes expansion of rail services, growth in private ride services, decreases in gas prices and the overall cost of owning a car is relatively low in many states.

The report called “Trends in Public Transportation Ridership: Implications for Federal Policy” said “National transit ridership is somewhat dependent on the level of federal funding.”

In his June 22 presentation to the Sioux Falls City Council, Trebilcock said the reasons to start an on demand transit pilot project were to run the transit efficiently, transit was identified as a critical issue to innovate and the need to provide transit services in new ways because of the city’s growth.

Could there be new routes in other areas of Sioux Falls?

“We are trying to find ways to utilize our fleets more efficiently and ways to add additional services to additional areas,” Trebilcock said.

Now that the new routes have been established on Saturdays, Trebilcock said SAM will look at the fixed route 819 and how the system’s para-transit can work with on demand and more.

City of Sioux Falls graphic.

Northern Sioux Falls including the industrial park, a newer Walmart and Southeast Technical College are served during the week. “Can there be service on Saturdays?” Trebilcock said.

SAM operates para-transit for riders who aren’t able to reach fixed bus stops or use the lift system in traditional buses on fixed routes

Combing para-transit with on-demand service is one possible option, Trebilcock said.

“Can we work it so in one case it’s curb to curb pickup at a house and the next rider gets picked up at the bus stop?” Trebilcock said.

Para-transit buses are smaller than traditional buses so the option can be a more efficient use of buses, Trebilcock said.

Keep the wheels moving

Trebilcock said buses that are idling aren’t efficient so SAM is evaluating the time buses are idle.

Reducing any idle time could also help lead to more on demand service or a fixed route, depending on factors such as demand, Trebilcock said.

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