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COVID timing affects transit study, but potential changes likely come with trade-offs

Rochester City Council discusses update as new five-year transit development plan is expected to be finalized next month.

Rochester Public Transit
A Rochester Public Transit bus along Second Street Southwest in downtown Rochester on Monday, July 25, 2022.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — Continued work on Rochester’s next five-year transit development plan has been influenced by COVID recovery.

“It’s very good timing, seeing that during the pandemic, we didn’t quite implement the last couple years from the previous development plan,” said Ia Xiong, Rochester Public Transit’s transit and parking systems manager.

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She said creating a plan for the next five years offers a chance to look back at what was implemented before the COVID-19 pandemic and what adjustments need to be considered amid changes seen in recent years.

At the same time, transit operations specialist Bradley Bobbitt, said some of the work connected to the data-driven planning effort is made more difficult due to limited ridership and route reductions that started in 2020.

“Our data is not very stable for that time period,” he said of 2020 and 2021.

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Ridership has increased this year after routes were re-established and revised to meet needs during recovery efforts.

Rochester City Council member Nick Campion raised concerns about past changes, as well as future changes that could be spurred with the new five-year plan.

“It feels like during my time, we’ve had a lot of these changes of a lot of reasons,” said the council member who is serving his eighth year in office.

The potential transit changes discussed during the council’s weekly study session on Monday included the possibility of creating new “core service” routes that would provide consistent service seven days a week, rather than using different schedules on weekdays and weekend.

Bobbitt said the shift could alter some existing services or require added funding.

“There will always be trade-offs,” he said.

Another potential change to create crosstown services could move a stop for at least one of the potential routes away from the city’s downtown transit hub, which might reduce transfers for some riders, but require additional walking for others.

However, Campion said his chief concern surrounds moving stops in areas where residents might have bought homes or rented apartments based on an existing stop that later disappears or moves and becomes less convenient.

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Bobbitt said a review of the city’s 1974 five-year transit development plan shows many of today’s major routes have been largely unchanged for decades, but he said there is less stability in the city’s fringe areas, where growth can shift demand.

With approximately 80% of transit funding coming from federal and state sources, Xiong said it’s important that the city make sure its routes are as efficient as possible and meet ridership demand that can be reported when seeking transit funding.

Additionally, the city seeks to generate its 20% of funding through fares and advertising on the buses, rather than relying on property tax revenue, which requires routine monitoring of efficiency and usage.

She said any revenue beyond what is needed to fund daily operations must be used within the transit program and typically is used to replace or upgrade equipment.

Alongside that work, Bobbitt said the goal is to establish pathways to make sure future service changes are predictable and can easily be communicated to riders.

Part of that, he said, will be continued engagement with users and others as the new five-year transit plan is finalized.

The proposed recommendations reviewed Tuesday are preliminary and could be changed as the updated plan is developed.

The plan’s timeline has already been modified to include additional community input, and Bobbitt said the new schedule calls for the creation of a final draft by the end of August, with the hope of seeking Rochester City Council approval after a required public-comment period.

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What happened: The Rochester City Council received an update on the creation of the next Rochester Public Transit five-year transit development plan.

Why does this matter: The plan points toward goals to be implemented throughout the city's bus system during the next five years.

What's next: A final draft of the plan is expected in August and set for council approval after the required public-comment period.


Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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