SHERIDAN — Proponents of an expanded public transit service in Sheridan County met Thursday to discuss how best to move their project forward, following the recent completion of a public input process.
The meeting came on the heels of news that the Sheridan Mini Bus had been nominated for Transit Agency of the Year by the Wyoming Department of Transportation.
“It’s the whole (staff) that’s been nominated for the award because we’re a cooperative group,” Mini Bus Director Rita Schreibeis said. “Because of that we have a great service we provide to the community.”
The winner of this year’s award will be announced in June. The Mini Bus currently provides about 180 rides per day in the Sheridan area.
While the Mini Bus and several other organizations already provide on-call transportation services to area residents, an informal group of concerned citizens organized as the Public Transit Initiative of Sheridan County is working to expand those services even further.
The group was recently awarded a grant of about $45,000 from WYDOT to study existing transit infrastructure and what might be done to improve it.
Last winter, LSC Transportation Consultants of Colorado Springs, Colo., was chosen to conduct the study on behalf of the group.
At Thursday’s meeting LSC Principal A.T. Stoddard said his organization hopes to have a final report prepared by September.
In recent months, the Public Transit Initiative has worked alongside LSC to formalize a set of goals for the project. They include factors such as attracting new passengers while continuing to service existing ones, enhancing the sustainability of the area’s transit system and generally providing service that is at once efficient, safe and reliable.
While the groups have yet to nail down specific enhancements they would like to see made, Stoddard emphasized that any changes should be carefully considered so as not to negatively affect existing riders.
“We don’t want to do something that hurts people who are already dependent on transit service, no matter who is providing it,” he said.
Currently, the group is working off information collected during a recent public input phase. LSC distributed surveys and conducted in-person interviews with various groups of Sheridan residents on their feelings regarding existing public transit.
“With some of the interviews we did, we found a lot of misconceptions about what services are available,” Stoddard said.
Primary among them: The Mini Bus is only for seniors.
Stoddard said that while several organizations have worked to dispel that idea, it’s a difficult perception to shed given the current ridership of the service.
According to a slate of 80 surveys distributed among Mini Bus users, 61 percent were age 60 or older.
Public Transit Initiative members discussed ways to attract new demographics, including establishing a fixed bus route along the city’s transit spine of Main Street and Coffeen Avenue in addition to working with local businesses to find ways to make public transportation an economically competitive alternative to driving.
Existing public transit services cater mostly to the elderly and low-income individuals, according to data collected by the groups, but program organizers are hopeful that students, younger people and other groups might eventually be lured into giving public transit a chance.
The Public Transit Initiative is set to meet again in June.