Options for the proposed bus service that would connect the Tri-Cities include an intercity flex route that travels through each city or a demand response zone with optional curbside pickup by shuttles that takes the rider to one of just a few bus stops.
Representatives from the Nebraska Department of Transportation’s Mobility Management Project discussed those options during three presentations on Thursday at the Adams County Fairgrounds. The Mobility Management team was in Kearney on Wednesday and will be in Grand Island on Friday with similar presentations.
Presentations this week took into account feedback the Mobility Management team received at visits to the three cities in September.
More than 300 people completed a survey in September and October about a possible intercity bus service. Representatives from 100 Tri-City employers also took a similar survey.
Corinne Donahue, senior transportation planner for engineering firm Olsson who facilitated the discussion Thursday at the Adams County Fairgrounds, said more than 65% of survey participants responded they would use public transportation.
Reliability was the most desired feature.
“We heard loud and clear the riders wanted a guaranteed connection,” Donahue said. “If I go to Grand Island, if I go to Hastings or if I go to Kearney don’t leave me there.”
About half of the businesses that participated in the survey responded they may be willing to support employees who use public transit through options such as flexible shift hours or providing a bus pass.
Other desired features included in the survey responses were wi-fi and charging units, convenient schedules and affordable fares.
Mobility Management would work with existing transit services such as RYDE Transit in Hastings and Kearney, CRANE Public Transit in Grand Island and Navigator Motorcoaches, which connects the Tri-Cities to other parts of the state.
“Our goal is to not duplicate that service,” Donahue said. “We want to coordinate with them however we can.”
Lucinda Wall of Hastings was in attendance at Thursday’s meeting. She said she uses RYDE and CRANE transit services within Hastings and Grand Island, but would like to see an inexpensive public transportation option between the cities as well as to Kearney.
“The people who don’t live in Kearney, they need a way to get to the VA that isn’t driving,” she said. “It’s just a long trip in the winter.”
The Mobility Management team is using similar, successful intercity bus programs in Wisconsin and Colorado as models.
The Scenic Mississippi Regional Transit service in the La Crosse, Wisconsin, area has a $3 one-way fare. Bustang Outrider is a statewide service in Colorado with fares that range from $2 to $30 depending on the distance.
Proposed stops in Hastings for the flex route include Central Community College, Elm Avenue and South Street, the Amtrak station, Baltimore Avenue and Second Street, Seventh Street and Baltimore Avenue, Hastings College (on demand) and Walmart.
Proposed stops in Hastings for the more centralized demand response zone route include Burlington and West D Street, Amtrak and Walmart.
Proposed service frequency included a base level with six round trips between Hastings and Grand Island with a stop in Doniphan, one departing every two hours; and an enhanced level with eight round trips and service for more hours of the day.
The Hastings and Kearney route has fewer round trips in Hastings — three for the base level and four for the enhanced level — and is planned to stop at smaller communities along U.S. Highway 6 and Nebraska Highway 10.
Kearney and Grand Island would connect along U.S. Highway 30 with stops at smaller communities along the way; and would have an express route along Interstate 80.
The first round trip is scheduled to start at 5:30 a.m. with the last arrival at 9:15 p.m.
There was some concern expressed Thursday about needing later hours for shift workers.
Initial routes also are only scheduled for Monday through Friday.
Mobility Management team members said they will strive to make the service work for riders.
The flex route option with more stops would be more expensive than the demand response zone option with curbside shuttle service.
Proposed annual operating costs range from $1,441,700 for the basic demand response zone option to $2,086,933 for the enhanced flex route option.
“Our job is to make sure we’re real with the cost,” Donahue said.
The operating costs would be offset by fare revenue.
There is also outside funding available.
Nebraska receives federal intercity bus funds. The state also has funds specifically earmarked for intercity bus service.
Kari Ruse, Nebraska Department of Transportation transit manager, said if fairs could offset operating costs for the enhanced demand response zone option from $1.788 to $1 million, Mobility Management already has in hand $500,000 in federal dollars to help cover the cost of the operating deficit.
Leah Wagoner, who lives in Grand Island and works in the sustainability department at the Central Community College-Hastings campus, was among those in attendance Thursday and was enthusiastic about the potential of a Tri-City bus service both for herself as well as for CCC students.
“I do often hear about students who struggle to get to class because of being able to get in the car and get there whether it be weather or just not even having the service of having your own vehicle,” she said. “If our students were able to have a bus service I see them being able to get to class, which would get them their degrees and have more success. I can see so many people being able to use this it’s just incredible.”
The Mobility Management team is scheduled to return to the Tri-Cities in March with preferred routes. Team members are also working with local stakeholders such as employers and educational institutions to help provide local matches.
The Tri-City bus service could be in operation by the end of 2021.