CyRide workshop questions fare-free model

Christie Smith

CyRide availability was discussed at a special meeting of the Ames City Council and CyRide Board of Trustees on Tuesday night.

The CyRide Board of Trustees, made up of representatives from City Council, Student Government, Ames Transit Board and Iowa State, participated in a round-table meeting to talk about the current demands of CyRide.

“With more students at Iowa State, and with students accounting for 93 percent of all CyRide ridership, there are obviously more students on the buses than in years past,” said Sam Schulte, senior in biochemistry and ex-officio City Council representative.

According to data from the Transit Board of Trustees, CyRide provides 112 rides per capita, which is the equivalent of transportation systems in cities as large as Boston.

With the record number of students enrolled at Iowa State this year, there are new strains on CyRide; the increase of students has created a need for additional buses, drivers and routes.

Some areas of Ames near major destinations, like the Research Park, or larger residential complexes, like The Grove or Copper Beach, are under-served by current CyRide routes.

By fall 2016, the CyRide fleet will outgrow the current CyRide storage facility. The CyRide fleet itself is 10 years old and requires funds for maintenance.

Despite all of the demands of CyRide, transportation funds are waning.

“Unfortunately, federal transportation funding has been reduced at the very time when ISU has added over 4,900 students in three years,” said Councilwoman Gloria Betcher.

CyRide board members talked about ways to supplement the transportation budget and better serve the CyRide ridership.

ISU students, who account for more than 90 percent of CyRide’s ridership, currently pay 66 percent of local funding for CyRide with an additional 10 percent paid by Iowa State. Schulte said full-time ISU students, whose CyRide fees are factored into their tuition, will pay $73.10 per semester beginning in Spring 2016 as opposed to the current $66.35.

Sheri Kyras, CyRide transit director, said growing the CyRide program to meet riders’ needs could cost up to $50,000 per bus and $200,000 per route per year. The difference in cost is based on whether the added services are with routes and buses that already exist, or if the demands require new buses and routes.

Councilman Peter Orazem suggested that CyRide alert riders of peak traffic times and encourage them to avoid these times.

Warren Madden, ISU senior vice president for business and finance, suggested that Iowa State stagger its class schedules, so students do not travel to classes at the same times each day.

Kyras said traffic patterns have shown that students are avoiding so-called peak travel times, but CyRide traffic is consistent throughout the day with small increases in ridership before and after classes.

“I don’t want to shrink ridership for needed transit rides,” said Councilman Matthew Goodman, who questioned whether students are using CyRide efficiently.

Goodman said he was not sure that the fare-free CyRide model should continue.

Board members said they will continue to research CyRide’s needs and possible solutions for the lack of funding.

City Council will meet with Student Government on Wednesday to continue the CyRide discussion.