Mobility and the connectivity it provides are important elements in our economy and society. They are not only critical but 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 available public transportation services. In some cases, these services are very limited. 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 (demand response) services. The James River Transit system is an example of a system that is exclusively paratransit.
North Dakota has 45 transit systems serving parts of all 53 counties within the state. Forty-one of these systems offer paratransit service while only four systems, located in Fargo, Minot, Grand Forks, and Bismarck offer both paratransit and fixed-route service. Some of North Dakota's larger communities (classified as small urban) such as Jamestown are candidates for fixed-route service in either its traditional form, or in a modified form based on community needs.
Cost is a primary reason a fixed-route system has potential to succeed in a community such as Jamestown. The cost of providing a paratransit ride for James River Transit is approximately $5.96 per passenger. The cost of providing fixed-route service is generally lower per passenger. For example, the cost of providing fixed-route service in Fargo is $2.72 per passenger and the cost of providing fixed-route service in Minot is $2.36 per passenger. Transit systems with a large number of miles traveled each year accompanied by increased ridership may reduce their costs by utilizing a fixed-route system. Cost savings could also be passed on to riders, reducing the cost and increasing ridership.
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 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 FTA 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 may 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 United States population was older than 65. In 2020, an estimated 17 percent of the U.S. population will be more than 65 years old. Many of these people are unwilling to leave their small urban and rural communities for more urban 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 that continues to rise every year.
A second trend is the changing socioeconomic landscape of North Dakota's rural communities. Continued out-migration of young rural residents affects transit in two ways: It reduces the tax base which leads to limited funding for transit in rural areas, and it leaves fewer family members available to provide transportation to aging family members. A third trend is the federal government's involvement in small urban and rural public transit. The federal government has long been involved in public transit, and changes in administration and transportation policies have influenced transportation in the past and will continue to do so into the future. Transit systems rely heavily upon federal, state, and local funding. Systems need to be prepared to adjust when change occurs and they must look for ways to reduce costs which is paramount to the success of any system. Looking for innovative ways to better serve customers with limited funding will enable rural and small urban systems to remain viable while providing much-needed service to local residents.
The objective of this study is to evaluate the operational feasibility of altering the James River Transit paratransit system to include fixed-route service and measure the improvement in service to residents as well as cost savings to the transit system and riders.
This report is organized into four main chapters. Chapter Two discusses recent literature pertaining to fixed-route implementation and its feasibility. Chapter Three describes research methodology used in the study. Chapter Four contains survey results along with computer simulation and cost-effectiveness analysis. Chapter Five discusses conclusions and recommendations of the study and is followed by appendices containing the survey instrument and proposed fixed-route maps for Jamestown.