As new fixed-route bus service begins, some find stops tough to locate

By Burk Krohe

Manhattan residents will now have more opportunities to ride the bus ... if they can find the stops.

The Flint Hills Transportation Agency (ATA bus) began its fixed-route transportation system on Monday. Two bus routes criss-cross the city stopping at locations such as Target, the College Avenue United Methodist Church, the Ace Hardware parking lot and the Manhattan Public Library.

Anne Smith, director of ATA bus, is working on getting signs and shelters erected for the routes. Smith said several businesses have requested that ATA bus put up signs on their properties. ATA bus is also in talks with the city to put signs and shelters on city right-of-way. She says those simple additions will enhance the service for riders.

But it could be a while before that happens.

Smith said the agency has $60,000 in grant funding for signs and shelters and is in contact with the Kansas Department of Transportation. However, there is a procurement and vetting process, which Smith estimates will take several months.

There are a number of bureaucratic steps such as submitting plans and specifications for the shelters, a KDOT review of those plans, submitting a request for proposals (RFP) document for the construction of the shelters and a KDOT review of the RFP, which must be completed before any signs or shelters would be erected.

In the meantime, the agency has posted brochures on its website that identify each route’s stops and a schedule.

“The buses are stopping in the same locations every time,” Smith said. “They’re not stopping all willy nilly.”

It’s a strategy ATA bus has used previously.

“This is what we’ve done with SafeRide for two years,” Smith said.“So we’ve followed the same methodology.”

Smith said ATA bus is also close to completing an overhaul of the agency’s website, which should provide a better user experience for riders, too.

“If there would be any changes we’ll update the website as frequently as we need to,” Smith said.

Riding the bus

Armed with the online brochure and a decent grasp of Manhattan’s geography, I ventured from my apartment to ride the bus Thursday afternoon. I decided to get on at the Kansas State Student Union, where both fixed routes meet.

I showed up early for the bus that was scheduled to arrive at 2:12 p.m. After waiting a short time, the familiar white, ATA bus pulled up to the half-moon drive just west of the plaza. I approached the bus and asked the driver if it was one of the fixed-route buses. It was not.

It turns out he was picking up a few people using the agency’s on-demand service. However, he assured me that the fixed-route bus would be along shortly.

I only had to wait about five minutes before another bus arrived. I thought surely this must be it, but my hopes were quickly dashed. The driver informed me it was not a fixed-route bus, but one would be along shortly.

I saw several students milling around, so I asked them if they were also waiting for the fixed-route bus. They were just waiting for rides from friends, though, and for the most part, had no idea what I was talking about.

I sat down on a nearby bench and commenced waiting again (and working on some form of a tan). I waited on that bench until 2:35 before I called it quits. During that time, I did see another ATA bus, but it drove past me. By the time I got up and got a clear look down the street, it was gone and I was confused.

It occurred to me that I was almost certainly in the wrong place, but that’s one of the difficulties of unmarked stops. I had no idea where to go specifically even though I knew I was in the right general area. Then I ran into my other major difficulty — no one else could tell me where to go.

I walked back to my apartment to check the map and schedule again. I’m not keen on a pretty simple map besting me, so I decided to try another stop. The map showed one at the Manhattan Public Library. I didn’t see how I could screw up at that location and had just enough time to get there for the 3:17 p.m. bus. 

I arrived at the library just after 3. For some reason, I waited for the bus on a bench at the entrance just off the parking lot. It’s how I (and I’m sure many people) always enter the building. It made perfect sense to me that the stop would be on Houston Street or Juliette Avenue. Apparently, I could screw up getting on the bus at that location.

I waited until 3:45 and never saw a bus. It wasn’t until that time that I realized my critical mistake: The library’s address is 629 Poyntz Ave., meaning the bus probably would have stopped on the other side of the building. Sitting in the parking lot, I would have never known if it came by.

At that point, I had work to do and decided to ride the bus another day.

The experience either proved signs and shelters will be important for riders or I’m terrible at figuring out public transportation.  But probably both.

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