This report has been prepared with funds provided by the North Dakota Department of Transportation to the Small Urban & Rural Transit Center (SURTC) at North Dakota State University.
The authors would like to thank Ms. Carol Wright and her staff at James River Transit for providing data and information about James River Transit along with hosting focus group and driver meetings; Mr. Jon Mielke for reviewing the document, Mr. Tom Jirik for editing the document, and Beverly Trittin for final report preparation.
The contents presented in this report do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the North Dakota Department of Transportation, but are the sole responsibility of the Small Urban & Rural Transit Center, Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, and the authors.
Mobility and the connectivity it provides are important elements in our economy and society. They are essential for the economic success and social integration of the individual. Yet, these elements are sometimes minimal or absent in small urban and rural settings. Many of the Northern Plains states' (North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and parts of Iowa and Minnesota) elderly, disabled and low income residents rely on public transportation services. In some cases, these services are very limited. The lack of funds forces transit managers to make difficult choices to the point of reducing or eliminating services. Within North Dakota, many transit systems offer primarily paratransit (on demand response) services. The James River Transit system is an example of a system that is exclusively paratransit in nature.
James River Transit is a paratransit system serving the Jamestown community. It provided 50,180 one-way rides in 2000 and 45,100 one-way rides in 2001 while traveling 130,476 miles and 129,118 miles for those two calendar years, respectively. The system operates seven days per week, and its ridership may warrant some form of fixed-route system.
Jamestown also has a large population of individuals with special needs. This large demographic group, along with ADA requirements, will not allow for the complete elimination of James River Transit's current paratransit system. However, implementing a fixed-route system and reducing the number of miles traveled and the number of individual trips provided by the paratransit service would allow James River Transit to reduce costs and charge lower fares for fixed-route service.
Fixed-route service may help Jamestown adapt to the emerging trends of the state which suggest that providing transit service in the future will become even more challenging. One trend is the increasing age of North Dakota's rural population. In 1970, roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population was older than 65. In 2020, an estimated 17 percent of the U.S. population will be older than 65. Many of these people are unwilling to leave their small urban and rural communities for more urbanized areas offering a greater range of services. Census data from 2000 reveals that Jamestown's population was 15,571 in 1990 and 15,527 in 2000, a decrease of only 44 people, while the population of residents 65 and older went from 2,633 in 1990 to 2,806 in 2000, a 6.2 percent increase.
The James River Transit survey was distributed to current transit users. The questionnaire was divided into two main parts. The first part dealt with the existing paratransit service provided by James River Transit as well as feelings towards potential fixed-route service. The second part identified demographic characteristics of James River Transit riders. The total number of survey respondents (55) consisted of 15 male and 40 females. Respondents' ages ranged from 18 to 83 with almost 60 percent being 50 years old or older.
Numerous computer simulations were also performed to develop the most effective fixed-route for Jamestown with many routes being considered for implementation. The cost-effectiveness of the Jamestown fixed-route system was analyzed. The evaluation included discussion on a proposed fare structure and general calculations to determine necessary subsidies for James River Transit.
A primary goal of the James River study is to provide a useful tool for other transit agencies to utilize in determining whether or not a fixed-route bus system is feasible in their communities. Comparisons between Jamestown and other communities can provide insight into what options are available to transit agencies in small towns in addition to standard paratransit services. Ultimately, the goal of this research is to provide a stepping stone to the modernization of transit agencies throughout North Dakota and the entire country.