Shrinking the Footprint of the Sioux Falls Bus System is Short-Sighted [OPINION]
There's been something rolling around in my head for a bit. In interviews with several city councilors and mayoral candidates there’s a fairly common notion about transportation in our community that bothers me.
It’s this idea that in order to make the bus system better in Sioux Falls we need to scale it back.
With all due respect to the people who have forwarded this notion, and I do respect what they are saying, it’s the exact wrong thing to do in my mind. The thinking behind it is that by reducing the area covered, the Sioux Area Metro bus system can better serve the core of the city and control costs. It’s not illogical, but I believe it misses the fundamental mission and purpose of having a bus system.
We need public transit now more than ever. It’s true that ridership numbers have declined in recent years after several years of increases. Why? Two things – improving economy and low gas prices. Of those it’s gas prices that have the largest affect on public and alternative transportation. Trust me, gas will go back up. What then?
It’s also a hard fact that in any broad measure of community needs, transportation is at or near the top of the list. There’s a perception that the only people who need to ride the bus are poor people living in Pettigrew Heights or Whittier. That’s just not the truth. Working class people across the city benefit from the bus system, from Hayward to Hilltop.
We need to make the bus system better. There’s no doubt. Expanded hours are good. But the concept of the hub and spoke system we have now is likely outdated. Converting to a grid system, or a combination of the two, would be beneficial in my mind.
The long-term benefit of increased ridership is undeniable. A city with accessible and affordable public transit is better able to deal with traffic flow and growth. Cars are expensive. A working and middle class family that can reduce from three cars to two or two cars to one would save thousands of dollars each year.
Another issue that constantly burdens Sioux Area Metro is the pairing of the fixed line system and para-transit. Both are vital elements of the transportation fabric but their needs and demands and challenges are separate.
Transportation is basic infrastructure. It’s going to cost money. But streets are among the most expensive items in our budget. We complain about streets all the time and our elected officials respond to that complaint. But the idea that our streets are bad is ludicrous. In general, our roads are magnificent, particularly when you consider where we live and the toll the environment takes on concrete and asphalt.
So I disagree when someone says the footprint of the SAM needs to shrink to better serve people in a smaller portion of the city. That’s short-sighted and shirks the responsibility to create an integrated system that efficiently serves the entire community.
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