Friday, April 20, 2012

Rural transit finance

There was an article this week by Minnesota Public Radio on the transit service provided by Montevideo, MN.
In 2007, the three-bus transit system in Montevideo in western Minnesota gave people about 15,000 rides, making the dial-a-ride system one of the tiniest of the state's 60-plus transit services.
The next year, ridership declined. Each passenger trip cost the system more than $7.
That's when the town of 5,000 shifted gears, so to speak. The city council stopped thinking about transit as a public works service like street sweeping or sewage treatment. Instead, it started to envision helping people get around as a community collaboration.
The changes made contributed to an increase in ridership - from 15,000 to 27,000 rides per year - and a decrease in the cost per trip - from more than $7 to $5.34 - between 2007 and 2011. The article notes that this increase made it the fastest growing transit service in the state, though the growth rate in outstate Minnesota was a robust 12 percent. According to an article in MinnPost from 2010, the cost per trip is much lower in the core of the Twin Cities - where Metro Transit is the main provider, and the cost per trip is $2.34. However, the cost per trip ranges among suburban transit providers between $2.71 and $5.18, so Montevideo's service is nearly competitive with those services on that measure.

Doing the math, that means that the cost to the city to provide the service went from $105,000 to $144,180. Given the increase in cost, and the evident pride the city staff have in the improved service, it would appear that they are seeing other positive outcomes from the increased ridership. It is intriguing that they were able to improve results so dramatically, because the changes made sound more like moderate improvements to service delivery than a drastic redesign. The article does not provide many details on what specific changes were made, and unfortunately the City's website does not either.

As a sidenote, it is likely not a coincidence that a rural transit service would be reframed as an opportunity for collaboration and community development in this particular town, because there is very interesting work being done in these areas by an organization called CURE. Nonetheless, interesting that a core public works service can be managed more effectively by another department with different objectives.

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