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Erik Burgess, Published November 27 2012

Moorhead beefs up bus service

MOORHEAD – When she heard the news, Colleen Bertrand pumped her fist.

Following City Council action Monday, the MATBUS route that stops on the Minnesota State University Moorhead campus will be coming every 15 minutes in the afternoon during the school year.

Right now, the Route 2 bus stops by campus every 30 minutes, meaning Bertrand sometimes trails into class a few minutes late.

“Every 15 minutes would allow me to have perfect time without having to get up sooner,” the MSUM junior said with a laugh.

Beginning Jan. 2, Route 2 will run every 15 minutes from 2:30 until 6:30 p.m. during the school year.

The changes proposed by the Metro Area Transit Coordinating Board were a response to a recent trend of growing ridership, especially to and from the MSUM campus, said Lori Van Beek, Moorhead’s transit manager.

MATBUS saw a 15 percent increase in overall riders from 2010 to 2011. From 2011 through this year, ridership has maintained that increase plus another percentage point, Van Beek said.

“Riders have been going up and the more service you put out there, generally the more ridership you get,” she said.

Two other Moorhead routes will see changes Jan. 2. Routes 7 and 8 – the city’s two night routes – will go an hour later into the night, ending at 11:15 p.m. Those routes will also continue to run every 30 minutes. They originally had 60-minute wait times, but their frequency was temporarily increased in January. Van Beek said those routes have seen a 50 percent increase in riders since the change.

MAT Paratransit will also see the one-hour extension.

The expansion of bus service will cost $114,000, about 80 percent of which will be paid for with state and federal grants.

“We’ve gotten really good feedback,” Van Beek said. “There’s no negative feedback other than ‘Can you do more?’ ”

That feedback has also shown that riders want bus service on Sunday. Van Beek said it won’t happen yet, but that it is in the group’s five-year transportation plan.

A big change is also coming to Fargo buses. Beginning sometime next summer, riders will no longer be allowed to flag down a bus to catch a ride.

Designated bus stops will be created and buses will phase out pulling over any time someone waves their arm, making routes timelier, said Jim Gilmour, the city’s director of planning and development.

“Most cities do have designated stops,” Gilmour said. “This will help and make it clear where you can wait for a bus.”

Bus stops will tentatively be planned out by summer of next year, Gilmour said, and he would hope the change will come into full swing by 2014.

“It’s not just going to happen overnight,” he said. “We need to do a lot of education for our riders and explain why we’re doing it.”

The Fargo City Commission also approved Monday changes to bus routes to be effective Jan. 2, pushing many of them an hour longer to match Moorhead. Five routes – including Route 15, which Gilmour called Fargo’s “core” route from downtown to the West Acres mall – were extended to 11:15 p.m. Route 14W, which serves 32nd Avenue, will also increase to stops every half- hour.

The changes cost about $260,000 total, which Gilmour said will come from a combination of federal, state and local dollars.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518