Iowa City Area Transit Study News

A photo of a new City bus filled with riders.

Introduction

The City Council’s Strategic Plan calls for the City “to undertake a comprehensive assessment of Iowa City’s public transit system and to implement changes to assure that the service best meets the needs of the entire community.”

The City also recently adopted a Climate Action Plan which calls for a shift of 55% of vehicular trips to more sustainable methods of transportation such as biking, walking, or transit in order to meet greenhouse gas emission reduction goals by 2050. In order to reach these goals and to provide more reliable service for those that use transit everyday, the transit system will need to meet the needs of a greater number of residents and visitors.

In response, the City Council authorized an agreement with transportation planning firm Nelson-Nygaard Consulting Associates for a Comprehensive Operations Analysis (aka Transit Study) of Iowa City’s transit system. The City of Coralville and the University of Iowa (CAMBUS), the partner transit agencies within the metro area, are also included in the study.

What will the study do?

The study will be comprehensive in nature, reviewing many aspects of the transit system including (but not limited to):

  • All routes
    A bus stop lit at night by a solar panel.
  • Stops
  • Hours of operation (including Sunday service)
  • Service areas
  • Frequency of service
  • Analysis of a zero-fare system within Iowa City
  • Fares/passes
  • Bus stop amenities
  • Policies
  • Analysis of a zero-fare system within Iowa City 

Components of the study will be informed by ridership data collection, review of the existing system, public engagement and understanding of public priorities, and will be augmented by the technical analysis and expertise of the consultant team in order to propose system enhancements.

The study will also consider emerging transportation technologies and solutions to help address current and future transportation challenges, strategies to improve coordination between local agencies, and will culminate in a set of service recommendations and associated costs to help guide decision making.

There will be multiple opportunities for public input/participation throughout the process. We encourage you to bookmark this page or subscribe to email updates via the link below.


Study Goals

Goals for the Transit Study are shown: removing barriers to transit, increase ridership, improve inter-agency coordination, leverage technology.

 


Transit Study Documents 

Proposed Preferred Alternative Transit System Design

The concept for the Preferred Alternative transit system design evolved from the three different scenarios that were presented to the public in January 2020 and are reflective of technical analysis, community input, and based on best practices and guiding principles.

Highlights:

  • The Preferred Alternative transit system design is an optimized version of our current transit system, using the existing financial, staffing, and capital resources available.
  • The proposed routes are focused on arterial streets and shifted away from local streets and private roads when possible to provide faster, more frequent, and more reliable service.
  • Shifting route design away from ineffective loop routes (which often require longer bus rides) to bi-directional “out and back” routes.
  • Simplifying the system so it is easier to understand by eliminating the night and weekend version of routes. Each route will follow the same path no matter the day of week or time of day.
  • All routes available on Saturdays except the Downtown Shuttle and Eastside Loop, which currently do not run on the weekend.
  • Increased the frequency of service (more buses per hour) on core routes.
  • Better connections to major shopping designations/retail job centers.
  • Some areas will have longer walks to service.
  • Transit service in areas with overlapping routes or very low ridership is shifted to adjacent routes or areas of greater need.
  • Changes to the transit system routes and stops are planned for the summer of 2021.
Map of Iowa City Transit preferred alternative routes.
Click on the map for a high-resolution image of the map.

Transit Stops

During November and December, Iowa City Transit is evaluating all transit stops along the proposed routes. The proposed transit stops will be posted on this website in advance of the public hearing(s) planned for early 2021 to present the proposed transit system changes, including the new routes, stops and hours of operation to the public. Please subscribe to the email updates below for notification.

Existing versus Proposed Transit Service Comparison

As indicated above, transit routes and stops have been evaluated as part of the transit study. Other aspects of the system, including the number of buses available on a rote per hour (bus frequency) and the hours of operation were also evaluated. Under the proposed transit system design, you no longer need to learn different routes for weekday, evenings and weekends. Each route will follow the same path no matter the day of week or time of day. This is designed to help simplify the system and make it easier to understand. A general overview of the current transit system’s routes, frequency of service, and service hours is posted below with the proposed transit system service level changes. As a reminder, the Preferred Alternative transit system design was developed considering Iowa City Transit’s current levels of funding, staffing and capital resources.

The study indicated a clear desire from the community for additional transit and mobility services (e.g. Sunday service, later service, overnight transportation), should additional funding be allocated towards mobility improvements. The Vision for Future Transportation: Transit and Mobility Enhancements section below provides more details on these potential enhancements.

A graphic showing existing Transit routes.

Click here for a high resolution image of the existing service levels chart. 

A chart with preferred alternative routes for transit.

Click here for a high resolution image of the preferred alternative service levels chart.


Recommended Changes to Fare and Fare Policies

One goal of the ICATS transit study is to bring metro area fare and fare policies into better alignment to benefit metro area travelers. The ICATS consultant team developed recommendations on how to simplify the fare system and improve coordination between transit agencies. In the fall of 2020, Iowa City and Coralville began a dialogue regarding the potential implementation of ICATS recommendations. For more information on the recommended fare changes, click here.

Vision for Future Transportation: Transit and Mobility Enhancements

One clear message from the public through the ICATS process is that the transportation and mobility needs of the community are significant and far exceed the public transit service current available. In response, the study identified nine enhancements that could help improve the transit system or reduce transportation challenges if additional funding were acquired.

The nine enhancements were presented to the City Council at their October 6th and October 20th Work Sessions and are available here. The City Council directed staff to further evaluate several enhancements to improve mobility in Iowa City including:

  1. Sunday service
  2. Later Weekday and Saturday Service
  3. “Night Owl Service” to help fill the transportation gap during overnight/weekend hours when transit is not in operation

At an upcoming December or January Work Session, the City Council will be presented with additional information on how the desired enhancements could be achieved with an expansion of fixed-route service or the introduction of microtransit or other on-demand mobility services.

Next Steps

Iowa City Transit will be presenting the proposed route, stop, and service hours changes at upcoming public hearings in early 2021. The proposed transit stops will be posted online for review prior to the meeting(s). The City Council will formally consider the adoption of the Iowa City Area Transit Study later in the spring with transit system route changes expected in the summer of 2021. See timeline below for more details.

Iowa City Area Transit Study - Draft Plan Chapters

The draft plan is being finalized and will be posted prior to the public hearing. Please subscribe to email updates below to be notified when the plan document is available for review.

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Introduction
  3. Plan Review
  4. Market Analysis
  5. Transit in Iowa City
  6. Route Profiles
  7. Scenario Development
  8. Outreach Summary
  9. Preferred Alternative
  10. Transit Infrastructure and Zero-Emissions Transition Considerations
  11. Vision for Transit

Updated timeline of events (November 2020)

The study was initially expected to be completed in the summer of 2020, however delays were incurred as a result of the pandemic. Changes to routes, stops, and the transit schedule are now expected to be implemented in the summer of 2021.

2019

August – Kickoff meeting with consultant team

Phase I Public Outreach: September – Ridership data collected on each transit route. An on-board survey was administered to approximately 1,000 Iowa City Transit riders gathering basic demographic data, information about their transit trip, and desired service enhancements.

Phase II Public Outreach: November – Public meetings held in Iowa City, Coralville, and on the University of Iowa campus with over 90 attendees. Twelve stakeholder meetings held with area social service, economic development, and educational organizations. Received over 1300 responses to “Design Your Own Transit System” online tool to gauge public feedback about relative preference for different transit amenities.

October to November – Consultant team performed background review and market analysis, developed route profiles/maps, performed evaluation of University of Iowa student travel behaviors, performed an evening route analysis, and finalized a report on the existing conditions related to the transit system’s current operations.

November to December – Using public feedback, developed alternate service scenarios.

2020

Phase III Public Outreach: January – Held Open House public meetings in Iowa City, on the University campus, and in Coralville to present three different concepts for transit system service in the metro area with over 150 attendees. Concept 1 focused on increasing the frequency of service, Concept 2 focused on simplifying coverage, and Concept 3 (for Iowa City only) involved restructuring and improving weekend and evening service. Received 1,400 responses to online survey relating to the three potential transit service scenarios.

March – Began development of preferred alternative transit system design based on feedback from the three alternate scenarios proposed to the public in January 2020. Transit study placed on hold in late March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Develop goals for review of fares, review passes and policies, evaluate fare structure, perform zero-fare analysis for Iowa City, research ticketless mobile fare solutions.

August – Reconvened transit study. Developed a draft preferred alternative based on community feedback from three distinct service scenarios presented in January and current funding levels. Developed recommendations for changes to fare policies to improve consistency amongst the metro-area transit systems.  Developed potential enhancements to transit service and general mobility based on community input. These potential enhancements would require additional funding.

October – Presented to the City Council a draft preferred transit system design developed to provide faster, more frequent, and more reliable service while simplifying the system and improving evening and weekend service. Staff also presented fare recommendations and a list of nine potential service enhancements. The City Council indicated a desire to further review the expansion of evening service, Sunday service, and “night-owl” service that would operate when transit is not in service. The City Council indicated a desire to evaluate both fixed-route and microtransit or on-demand options. The City Council also indicated a desire to seek ways in which Iowa City and Coralville fares and fare policies can brought into better alignment.

November to December – Perform final field review of all route and stop recommendations, develop scenarios for potential transit/transportation service enhancements and present those options to the City Council, finalize Iowa City Area Transit Study document.

2021

January to February – Publish proposed route, stop, and service changes. Publish draft Iowa City Area Transit Study draft plan chapters for review. Hold in-person and/or virtual public hearing(s) to present the proposed transit system changes to the public including new routes, transit stops, fare and transfer policy changes, and the new Transit App.

February to March – Finalize Iowa City Area Transit Study draft plan and transit system design changes including routes, stops, and service changes.

April to May – Present final Iowa City Area Transit Study draft plan to the City Council for final consideration. Implement fare policy changes.

August 1, 2021 – Implement preliminary transit system design changes.


Select to listen to our Traveling with Transit podcast

 

 

Listen to the Iowa City Matters "Traveling with Transit" Podcast for a detailed conversation about area transit service.

 

 


Questions?

Contact Director of Transportation Services Darian Nagle-Gamm for more information about the study at 319-356-5156 or email darian-nagle-gamm@iowa-city.org


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