Marion Exploring Options to Improve Community Transit Service
In order to be included along the routes of the Cedar Rapids Public Transit System (city buses), Marion has willingly paid into that system for years.
But those costs for Marion are about to rise, sharply. Marion currently pays $100,000 annually and will soon see that rise to $567,205.
Thus, the city of Marion has decided to start looking at other options, including its own "micro-transit" system. The Cedar Rapids Gazette says that at last week's city council meeting, officials directed staff to create a timeline and prepare documents to move forward with the plan.
Cost and flexibility are the focus
For much of the pandemic, riders of the Cedar Rapids city bus have not been charged a fee for ridership. That is likely to eventually change. But they are also not available evenings past 7 p.m. or on Saturdays. And, although it's been in discussions for years, it has not yet been available on Sundays.
That presents challenges to those who need a ride during those times as they have to reserve, 24 hours in advance, a spot with Horizons NTS (Neighborhood Transit Service) for a fee. Even that service has seen its participation cut in half. At other times, they have been booked up for weeks at a time. It may be simply easier to just not go anywhere than to jump through hoops to get there.
An "Uber for public transit"
That is what Community Development Director Tom Treharne calls the proposed new system. It's no secret to Uber users how sporadic and costly it has gotten, and the Marion Micro-transit service would be an alternative for a cost to riders of only $3 a ride--if not less. These would be "on-demand" rides available almost immediately upon request or within a shorter period of time than traditional bus service.
Riders of Cedar Rapids city buses could also still use them to connect through the Marion micro-transit system. It would cost Marion only slightly less than its participation in the Cedar Rapids Public Transit system at just over $525,000 a year, which would come out of its allotment from the American Rescue Plan Act, but Marion city officials say the added flexibility and its own oversight makes it a win-win for all. Marion's plan appears to have the blessing and cooperation of Cedar Rapids Transit officials as well.
A survey is available online for residents and prospective users through the end of January here. I know what you're thinking. A lot of people who ride the bus might not have easy access to the internet. Those folks can stop by Marion City Hall and fill out a hard copy. The results will determine the feasibility of the project.