CURRENT ISSUE
JUNE 4, 2018 - VOL. 54 No. 8

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Community Appeals Capital Drive Schedule

 

COVER STORY

Mike Miller named Chamber's
Agri-Business Citizen of the Year

By Amy Smolik
Marketing & Communications Manager

SAM

Public transit is essential to a thriving economy — it helps bring people to jobs and creates a larger workforce base for employers. It also connects people to a community's goods and services.

But how can a community continue to provide quality transportation at an affordable price, using a long-term sustainable strategy while dealing with an increased demand and fewer resources?

Last fall, the Sioux Falls City Council asked City staff to take an in-depth view of the Sioux Falls transit system to find out how to make it more sustainable, address the demands of the growing needs of paratransit, as well as concerns about the budget's long-term sustainability. The public transit system in Sioux Falls is known as Sioux Area Metro or SAM. Transit use in Sioux Falls, both fixed-route and paratransit, has increased steadily over the past several years.

"The driving force behind all of this is projected shortcomings in the budget if we continue at the same level of service we are now," said City Councilor Rex Rolfing, also a member of the task force. "My hopes are that we will come up with some significant alternatives to the transit program we have now that will allow us to continue the superior service we now provide without straining future budgets."

Net cost per passenger
Fixed-Route
  $3.19 in 2011
  $3.36 in 2012
  $3.91 in 2013
Paratransit
  $22.40 in 2011
  $23.26 in 2012
  $25.41 in 2013

A Transit Task Force was created and members include representatives from various user groups, the medical community, school district, service agencies and businesses, including the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce. The task force will do a fare and operations analysis, coordinated transit plan and recommend a long-term sustainable strategy for Sioux Area Metro and community-based transit to the City Council. The task force started meeting in November and will continue through May or June, with the goal of implementing strategies for the FY 2015 budget. The City's budget process starts in the spring and will be approved in the fall.

Sioux Falls is not unique — lots of communities are struggling with transit system funding due to the loss of federal dollars, said City Transportation Planner Sam Treblicock. Some of the challenges include rising operating costs, the rapid growth of the city and increasing demands for paratransit services, a more expensive service to provide, beyond what revenues can sustain.

Fixed route service has buses traveling regular routes at scheduled times. The fixed route service consists of 12 regularly scheduled routes that run six days a week: Monday-Friday from 5:45 a.m.-6:45 p.m. and Saturdays from 7:45 a.m.-6:45 p.m. Fixed-route service also includes the seasonal trolley route in downtown and four school tripper routes. The Public Transit Advisory Board (PTAB) recently voted to change some of the bus routes as well as to extend weekday service by two hours on five routes, replacing the evening demand program for paratransit services and saving the city $20,000 in overtime costs per year. The changes will take effect in late March or April. Sioux Area Metro will now offer service past 9 p.m. on five of the city's most popular routes. The new hours on the fixed-route bus system will replace the evening demand program that allowed passengers to book rides on paratransit buses, which cost more to run.

Treblicock said there were more than 1 million rides on fixed routes last year; a ride is defined as using the service from one point to another point — transferring to another bus route would be considered a new ride.

SAM

Paratransit is a parallel service to the fixed-route system. As required by federal rules, the area covered by paratransit must be at least three-quarters of a mile from each fixed-route bus route. Paratransit is a curb-to-curb shared ride transportation service for persons who are, due to their functional limitation(s), unable to use accessible fixed route bus service either some or all of the time. Passengers must be certified eligible per guidelines established in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Currently, the Sioux Area Metro Paratransit service area exceeds the federally required area. Last year, paratransit service saw a slight decrease but Treblicock anticipates more than 150,000 rides this year.
The new routes also extend service into the northwest part of town to serve the University Center and a number of businesses in that area, including PREMIER Bankcard and the soon-to-be-built Walmart.

"The business community is very involved with this process because some of their customers and patients get to them via public transportation," Rolfing said. "Many people need the bus service to sustain life. Businesses/patrons will suffer if they cannot patronize these businesses and then the economy of Sioux Falls could suffer also."

Sioux Area Metro Fares
Fare last increased in 1996
  $1 single-ride pass
  $3 day pass
  $25 monthly pass
Of 20 communities surveyed:
  • Sioux Falls has one of the three lowest
    monthly fares.
  • Sioux Falls has one of the five lowest
    single-rider fares.
  • The median monthly fare is $38.
  • The median single-rider fare is $1.25.

Sioux Area Metro has not increased fares since 1996. Though paratransit is the more expensive service to operate, rates cannot exceed twice the rate of the fixed route service due to federal regulations. No fare increases are being proposed this year, but the Transit Task Force will be looking at the fare system. Treblicock said the task force is looking at ways to make paratransit more financially sustainable as its demand is increasing faster than revenues can sustain. The first few meetings of the task force have been to get everyone up to speed about the current transit system, he said, with several work groups breaking off and studying specific strategies.

For bus rider Chris Schiltz, also a member of the task force, improving the transit system means striving to add more business riders.

"It's very safe, very clean and the drivers are professional," Schiltz said. "It's a greener, safer way to commute and as we grow, there will be more people commuting from further away — and they'll wish they had access to mass transit."

Schiltz, a senior principal at Koch Hazard Architects, has actively promoted the ease of riding the transit system for years. He served on the PTAB for one term and helped spearhead increased marketing and awareness. A few years ago the transit system rebranded itself as "Sioux Area Metro," or SAM. Schiltz likened it to giving the system a personality like the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit in San Fransisco).

Schiltz said he challenges anyone to use the transit system — for it to be affordable the system needs riders, he said. For people to use the transit system, many may need to feel comfortable with riding and how it works. The task force plans on doing travel training on the transit system to make it easier for people to learn how to ride SAM. The group is also studying ways for non-profits to coordinate transportation and paratransit transportation, as well as maintenance and expansion of fixed route services.

Public transportation has been available in Sioux Falls for decades. The City of Sioux Falls acquired the local public transit system in 1979. The City owns the buses, buildings and equipment, but the day-to-day operations are contracted out to a transit management company.

Capital needs are a large part of the overall budget. Looking ahead, additional vehicles beyond this coming year will require additional space. In addition, ongoing maintenance at bus stops and other facilities will be needed, too. Finding new ways to accommodate riders outside the boundaries — both fixed route and paratransit — is also important, and also comes with a price tag.

Treblicock anticipates for the task force's recommended long-term strategy to be effective, it must be a community effort.

"It's not just a City issue," he said. "Others will need to come to the plate — and they already have. It's going to require the city, community, non-profit, and public/private partnerships."


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