St. Joseph Transit, residents adjust to bus route expansion

·3 min read

Aug. 16—St. Joseph Transit changed its bus routes at the beginning of this week, and as expected, some adjustments still need to be made.

The expansion has been years in the making. The last time St. Joseph Transit did a community survey was in the early 2000s. Since then, the city's population has grown to the east.

"A lot of our expansion is based on getting more of our core area being more towards the Belt Highway as opposed to where it was previously Downtown," said Michelle Schultz, the St. Joseph Transit general manager.

The expansion, which launched Monday, includes new buses, quicker pickup times and different routes, including one that exclusively drives up and down the Belt Highway. Schultz said the first day went well with a couple of hiccups as riders are still getting used to the changes. She said ridership numbers were down about 200 from the daily average of 1,200.

"A few people are still a little confused about it, but that's to be expected," Schultz said. "We expect that's going to last for a while to get used to the system."

One rider said the transition is "hectic" and requires him to memorize a new route, with different buses and pickup times. But he said his bus Tuesday morning was quicker than usual. Two bus drivers said once some kinks are ironed out, it will be more efficient than the previous schedule, as buses now run on a 30-minute route rather than 45 minutes. The biggest challenge, according to the drivers, is the logistics of a deviation.

With the route changes, St. Joseph Transit allows any rider, no matter where they are, to call for a bus to pick them up. This has been important to South Side residents, who no longer live near a route.

"She was very excited that she got picked up at her home and taken straight to the grocery store," Schultz said about a South Side resident who requested a deviation. "When she was done, a bus was there to take her back home."

But the confusion is caused by which bus to send to pick up passengers that request deviations — a problem that will be solved as drivers and dispatchers get used to the new routes, Schultz said.

Renee Barber has a daughter who takes the bus every day to work at Specialty Industries, a nonprofit organization that offers work for people with disabilities. Barber said the route changes made her daughter's ride to work increase from 15 minutes to two hours, with multiple transfers, and she's unsure if route deviations will work.

"I don't think it's going to solve a whole lot of problems," Barber said about deviations. "There's people that's probably just not going to want to mess with calling for a bus or whatever. It's a shame they had to cut out that route."

However, St. Joseph Transit made an accommodation. It added a bus specifically to help Specialty Industries employees get to and from work. It's an example of how St. Joseph Transit is willing to be flexible to accommodate riders, Schultz said.

"This is the service for the people," she said. "It's not for us. It's for the people. If it's not meeting their needs, then it doesn't work. If we can make changes to accommodate people, we're going to make those changes."

Quinn Ritzdorf can be reached at quinn.ritzdorf@newspressnow.com