Topper Transit Implements Route Adjustments and New Technologies
Western Kentucky University (WKU) Topper Transit runs transit service in and around WKU’s main and south campuses that is free and open to all students, faculty, staff, and the general public. Operated and managed by the Parking and Transportation Services Department, it is an integral part of campus life that provides more than 700,000 trips each year. The transit efficiency study recently completed by Michael Baker International, on behalf of the MPO, recommended several route adjustments. Topper Transit will be implementing these changes in the 2019 fall semester. Some highlights of those changes include: service to the new Park Street commuter parking lot, expanded service to the north-east area of main campus on Kentucky Street, direct service from the on-campus residence area in the Valley to the academic corridor along State and Normal Streets, and better service from the new Parking Structure 3.
Additionally, Topper Transit will be introducing a new Evening On-Demand Service beginning in the 2019 fall semester. The service will operate on Sundays 6pm – 11pm and Monday – Thursday 9pm – 11pm during the fall and spring semesters when the University is open. It will be available to all WKU students, faculty, and staff with a valid WKU NetID using the TapRide app to request a ride. Registered faculty, staff and students will also be able to use the TapRide app during the day to request ADA/para-transit service on campus. TapRide will also be utilized for the WKU ADA/Para-transit service offered Monday – Friday, 7:30am – 4:30pm, to all WKU students, faculty, and staff on WKU’s main and south campus. This service will be available throughout the year when the University is open. The Evening On-Demand Service will also be able to accommodate ADA passengers.
GObg Transit Recap
Ridership for GObg Transit continues to rise significantly over last year. June 2019 saw a 12.75% increase year-over-year (YOY) (10.32% Fixed bus routes and 28.99% ADA Complementary Para-transit), while year-to-date YOY ended with a 14.01% increase YTD YOY (14.83% Fixed bus routes and 9.21% ADA Complementary Para-transit). Additionally, GObg reported an on time performance (not early or late) average of 97.95% in June 2019. Recent adjustments were made to route 6 last month to provide an additional stop to a relocated medical facility, which moved to Lovers Lane. GObg staff are considering additional adjustments to various routes in order to provide more efficient and effective service.
In addition to seeing an increase in ridership, GObg is working to expand and improve their fleet. Two (2) new 31 foot buses received in April are being utilized for the fixed bus routes. Three (3) additional 31 foot buses are on order for the same purpose. A number of smaller vehicles are also on order to aid with Community Action’s GO, too ADA service and Senior Centers in Warren County. These bus and vehicle purchases will replace several older vehicles.
An improved daily and monthly pass ticketing option was introduced in June. Various other projects currently underway include implementing acceptance of credit/debit cards at the Downtown Transit Center, launching Google Transit, and refreshing the Community Action of Southern Kentucky (CASOKY) transportation website. Increased efforts have been made in reaching out to other entities that could benefit from transportation services, as well as increased emphasis on public service announcements and community involvement.
A Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Section 5339 FFY19 capital grant in the amount of $189K was awarded to CASOKY in June for GObg Transit and GO, too. The FTA Section 5307 FFY19 operating expense grant in the amount of $1.9M, which was filed in March for GO bg Transit and GO, too, has been acknowledged by FTA and is being reviewed for award.
A Section 5339(b) capital grant was filed in May with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet requesting $4.2M in capital investments for GObg Transit, GO, too, and CASOKY Transit. CASOKY is pursuing other grant opportunities including the Women’s Fund Grant with $100K funding potential and the SNAP Grant with $7.5K funding potential.
CASOKY filed operating and capital grant applications in March 2019 for a total of $7.4M to operate public transit (CASOKY Transit) in nine counties (Allen, Barren, Butler, Edmonson, Hart, Logan, Metcalfe, Simpson, and Warren). The applications are being reviewed by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. These grants will provide funding for on demand and shuttle services that can be a source of increased ridership into existing transportation providers (e.g., GO bg Transit, GO, too, WKU Topper Transit, Greyhound Lines…).
Transit Study Recommends Efficiencies and Next Steps for Transit
Over the past year, the MPO and its stakeholders have worked with Michael Baker International (MBI) to complete a comprehensive study evaluating both WKU Topper Transit and GO bg Transit. The Bowling Green Transit Operational Efficiency & Management Analysis consisted of three study phases, where the first looked at operational efficiencies and management structure for Topper Transit. The desired outcome for Topper Transit was to identify opportunities to improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of their service to ensure Topper Transit is a good steward of university funds. The phase I report identified that Topper Transit’s total system performance performs similar or better to peers (other university transit systems with similar populations) in all categories reviewed. The study also identified that Topper Transit outperforms most peers in terms of riders per hour and mile. On the management side, the study identified that there are limited opportunities for cost savings or efficiencies with the current management structure, other than exploring coordination or merging with GObg Transit. MBI provided WKU with overall transit improvement recommendations that can both meet the needs of the audience and potentially provide cost savings. As discussed above, many of the recommendations will be implemented this fall, with other long-term recommendations as next steps forward.
Phase II provided a thorough review and analysis of the management structure for GObg Transit, while Phase III evaluated the feasibility of merging Topper Transit and GObg Transit. Phase II assessed a number of areas related to the management and service delivery of GObg Transit, identifying the need for the City of Bowling Green to establish better contracting and procurement documents and standards, in addition to more formalized oversight of the transit provider. Several bookkeeping recommendations were identified for GObg as well.
Moving into Phase III, MBI identified the strengths and weaknesses of the two transit providers while outlining the differences in service and management. This phase examined the potential options for merging the two services management and service together. The potential options start with the easiest option of “mutual cooperation” or working together on issues that do not require formal governance changes to the more complex and difficult option of a full merger of both management and service that would require governance and contractual changes from the way the systems are managed and operated today.
So, what’s next? The first steps lay in the hands of WKU and the City of Bowling Green to determine the desired objectives and abilities to potentially merging the two services. There are a number of nuances that must be determined in order to merge the two services, making a full merger a long-term product, if desired at all. There are several steps between where transit is now and a full merger that could improve the overall management structure and operations of transit services, while meeting the needs of the community at large. Most of the steps forward include increasing communication and mutual coordination of management and services, ranging from a shared management structure to a full merger with two separate service operations, a full merger with one service operation, and the final option of forming a transit authority. The City of Bowling Green, WKU, and MPO hope to continue communication with MBI to explore some of the short-term recommendations. The final report will be posted on the MPO website in the coming weeks.