News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 15, 2013

Survey shows Vigo bus riders want more service

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A preliminary Terre Haute-Vigo County bus transit survey shows riders would like rural bus service provided later in the evening and on weekends, half-hour service on all city bus routes, more stops with benches and city bus service on Sundays.

In addition, survey respondents would like to see bus service to West Terre Haute, the Vigo County Industrial Park, more areas in the county on Saturdays and to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

The Terre Haute Transit Utility has 14 buses to serve the city, while the Area 7 on Aging and Disabled, with five buses, offers an on-demand service to rural areas in the county. That service is open to all county residents.

Alison Townsend, transportation planner for Corradino LLC — a company hired to identify, analyze and validate current and projected transit service needs through 2035 — said the finalized study will serve as a primary decision-making tool for transportation planning.

Preliminary options to improve the service and survey results were announced Thursday morning in a public meeting at the Vigo County Annex.

Martha F. Cronkite of West Terre Haute said at that meeting she thinks bus service is needed on the west side of the Wabash River.

“We are isolated. I am begging for help. Even if just three times a day on National Avenue in West Terre Haute,” she said.

Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett responded, saying “the city bus service runs in the city, basically, so any time we go out of the city, then the city taxpayers have to pay for that. We can’t put that burden on city taxpayers to try to go somewhere out in the county,” the mayor said.

Bennett said residents of West Terre Haute can approach the West Terre Haute Town Council or the Vigo County Council about other funding sources to expand the bus service.

“If they can go half with us, we would be able to expand service somewhere and try it,” the mayor said.

City bus service is offered to Ivy Tech Community College, which shares the cost, as does Indiana State University for service from the campus, through student fees. Those routes pick up every half hour. The remaining city bus routes pick up hourly.

Brad Miller, transportation director for Terre Haute, prior to the meeting said adding a route, such as to West Terre Haute, generally would cost about $75,000 if an existing bus can be used. If a new bus is required, the cost would double.

The city’s transit utility, which operates the buses, is funded for capital purchases, such as a new bus, with 80 percent from federal funds and 20 percent local funds. The budget for day-to-day operations is split 50-50 with the federal government, Miller said.

Preliminary options include changing an East Wabash/East Locust bus route to run both directions along Wabash Avenue, instead of only easterly; changing a Plaza North route to run both directions on Lafayette Avenue; and providing an option for a West Terre Haute and Seelyville route, and for a route to the county’s industrial park in the southern part of the county.

Another option is night service for workers on second or third shifts. It would be an on-demand subscription service with a route based on riders. An employer, such as in the industrial park, would cover the costs. It would be less costly than keeping night routes open later into the evening, Townsend said.

Final recommendations from Corradino are due by March 15. Miller said before any routes are changed or any route added, “we have to look at how many riders will we pull in. I am concerned about Seelyville and West Terre Haute. We did a West Terre Haute route once before and had very, very little ridership,” Miller said.

In addition, Miller said the city will have to see how much revenues are coming in as a result of a general property reassessment. “If cuts have to be made, we don’t want to add a route and then have to cut it,” he said.

Gloria Wetnight, assistant director of the Area 7 on Aging and Disabled, said that agency offers on-demand service to all Vigo County residents. While riders can request a ride at the same time each week, that “subscriber service” is limited to just 50 percent of riders.

“It is on a first-come, first-service basis. You will not be bumped,” Wetnight said. However, service is limited by space. Area 7 has five buses. The cost is $2 one-way. Wetnight said it is best to call 48 hours in advance “as we are not really at the demand response” capability yet, she said.

Wetnight said many riders have been turned away since August as the service was down three bus drivers. However, “we are now back to full drivers,” Wetnight said.

“Well, now I don’t feel so isolated,” Cronkite said.

Surveys were conducted from riders on Terre Haute city buses, as well as buses for Area 7 Agency on Aging and Disabled and from an online survey. In all, the survey had 203 responses, of which 27 were online.

Nearly 69 percent of bus riders do not own a vehicle. Work, shopping and school the top three purposes for riding the bus. Nearly 84 percent ride the city bus weekly and nearly 62 percent use Area 7 buses weekly, according to survey results.

Also, 63.5 percent ride the city bus after 6 p.m., and 73 percent ride the bus on Saturdays, a statistic Townsend bodes well for the weekend service.

Ridership on city buses went from 291,888 trips in 2010 to 343,152 trips in 2011. A trip is defined as one-way service. Area 7 had 11,344 trips in 2010 and 14,969 in 2011.

Vigo County’s population is expected to remain about the same through 2030, with a slight decline by 2035. The 2010 population of 107,848 is forecast to be 109,710 by 2020, then 110,282 by 2030, dipping down to 109,897 by 2035.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.