Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Fixed route system debuts in the city

After a more than 50 year absence, public transportation in Manhattan features a fixed route system. Prior to this past spring, the city was the only one of its size in Kansas that didn’t have fixed bus routes. Now there are two routes connecting different parts of the city.

The Flint Hills Area Transportation Agency (ATA) is the public transportation provider. To expand the city coverage the company needs better funding, sai d Anne Smith, ATA bus director.

“We’ve had numerous requests to add stops to the routes,” she said. “We can’t grow quicker than we have money to fund it.”

Within the past five years the amount of ridership has grown tremendously. According to Smith, in 2007 ATA transported 21,512 rides. Last year, the comparable figure was 72,139 rides.

ATA hopes to come close to 100,000 rides this year.

“ATA is trying to run a good system,” Karen Davis, community development director, said. “They seem to be successful.”

ATA provides three main services in the city . Demand response service used to be the most popular. It is similar to a taxi service except that the rider needs to call 24 hours in advance to arrange the time the shuttle will pick him or her up. Also the rider should wait for the shuttle at the curb.

The new fixed route service has become popular. Two routes link up the eastern and western parts of the city, passing downtown, K-State and shopping areas. The schedule of both routes is available online.

The problem ATA is tackling now is non-visibility of the public system in the streets. Even though the operation was started months ago, the bus stops are still not identified because the City Commission has not allowed the installation of marking signs

“Hopefully we’ll be able to work with the city and they’ll give us permission eventually,” Smith said.

Davis said the problem is that the City Commission wants a better-developed plan for the signs.

The hope is to install both signs and benches. Smith said ATA has gotten funding for that. Also there are some businesses willing to have bus stops in front of their buildings.

The demand response ride costs $2, and a fixed route ticket is $1. Monthly tickets costing $30 (fixed routes only) are available, as are 50 percent discounts for seniors, disabled and low income.

Fees cover roughly 13 percent of the cost of the fare, but ATA is not going to raise the cost of the ride.

“We are pretty much at the top of what we charge among providers of our size,” Smith said. “A lot of providers don’t charge anything.”

Another ATA service is free of charge for K-State students. This is Safe Ride shuttles, which operate from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday between Aggieville and several districts of the city. The purpose of the Safe Ride is to prevent students from driving while intoxicated.

ATA started another program with K-State this past winter. The Jardine shuttle takes K-State ID holders for free from Jardine throughout campus. Another route is University Crossing. It runs back and forth from Manhattan Area Technical College, to University Crossing Apartments and the K-State Student Union.

There is also a free shopping shuttle for K-State students. Targeted at international students, a van takes them to Wal-Mart on Wednesday night. The first Saturday of the month the van takes students to the downtown, Target and the Asian Market. The schedule is available on the web site.

There are designated spots for picking up students on campus at Moore Hall, Jardine and the Student Union. On the way back the driver will drop off everyone at the curb of his or her apartment.

“Not just to the bus stop but to the actual residence,” Maria Beebe, International Student and Scholar Services assistant director, said. “So they don’t have to carry all those packages.”

Manhattan had a developed public transit system in the first half of the 20th century. In the 1920s there were street cars circulating between campus and up to Poyntz Avenue. Its supporters see the return of fixed route service as an indication that a new era for public transportation is starting.

“We are excited about the opportunities that are in front of us,” Smith said. “It’s a good time to be looking for public transportation in Manhattan. We we hope that folks will be interested in trying it out.”

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