Kokomo — Kokomo’s City-Line Trolley bus system is about to move a big step closer to covering all points of the compass, with a roll out of expanded routes slated for the end of the month.
Two new buses, decked out in San Francisco trolley fashion, will be seen around town for the next couple of weeks making training runs.
New signs will be going up (wrapped to prevent any confusion) and work will begin to install about 25 new bus shelters this week.
When all of training and prep work is done, the area of the city in close proximity to a bus stop will roughly double.
It’s easily the biggest expansion of bus service since the system started up almost three years ago.
“I think we’re picking up some key locations — Kokomo High School, the American Health Network offices on Dixon Road. It runs a loop through Indian Heights. It expands us to the west, as well as to the north. It gives us what I would call standard coverage throughout the city,” Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said.
The expanded system will have 275 stops, which is 157 more than the city currently services, according to transportation director Tammy Corn.
“The mayor’s goal was to serve as many people as we could,” Corn said Friday. “And at this point, we will reach most of the people who desire bus service. You’ll never get everyone, but this is huge.”
When Goodnight took office in 2007, he set about reversing the city’s longstanding policy against a fixed-route bus system. Ever since ending city bus service in the 1960s, city officials had avoided a return, citing cost.
For Goodnight, bringing back the bus system was more about addressing the cost of not having reliable public transportation.
Social advocates, including the leadership of the United Way of Howard County, had put the lack of public transportation at the top of needs-assessment lists for years, saying low-income residents couldn’t get to jobs, doctors’ offices and grocery stores.
“You think about social costs, and we hear from local doctors that people now are going on the bus for care at the Clinic of Hope, rather than taking the ambulance to the emergency room. Think about what that saves,” Corn said, referencing one of the city’s main providers of preventative health care to the disadvantaged.
The city went all out on the new buses, purchasing two new ones from Gillig Inc., Hayward, Calif., for $447,000 apiece.
That’s more than twice what the original trolleys cost, but city officials expect the new buses to last three times as long.
Federal transportation funds covered 83 percent of the cost of the buses; the city is spending about $300,000 in local funds for the rollout, including the match for the buses and increased operating costs, according to Larry Ives, director of the Kokomo-Howard County Governmental Coordinating Council.
The bus system’s ever-increasing ridership is the reason most of the cost of the rollout is being covered by federal funds. Ives said both state and federal audits have confirmed the city’s ridership figures, which now hover around 1,100 rides a day.
Corn said the hope is that, eventually, all of the city’s buses will match the new units, which feature a decorative, trolley-style cupola on top, and a whole bunch of wood-like composite trim molding.
Gone is the vividly contrasting, green/red two-tone color scheme of the original buses, in favor of earthier tones.
The new buses kneel for disabled passengers, and wheelchair-bound residents will be able to get on and off without assistance, unless they request it.
The increased size of the buses (“These are the same buses you see in Indianapolis; they’re real buses,” Corn said) means they hold 45, compared to 30 on the older trolleys. The wood bench seats have been replaced with fabric-covered, molded seats for added comfort, and the new buses are built as buses from the ground up, so they ride smoother. The old buses are basically a seating compartment built onto a truck frame.
The city is adding three new routes, which will pick up the west side, going south on Dixon and out to Kokomo High School.
The doctors offices on Dixon have been much-requested destinations since the bus service started, and the newly annexed Orleans Southwest subdivision, and the Park Place apartments, also will be served on the western swing.
Another route will take in the north side trailer parks along Washington Street, as well as the Amberwood Place apartments. To the south, the new routes will take in all of Indian Heights. The existing bus stops will continue to be serviced, but some routes will move from every half-hour to once per hour, Corn said.
Anyone with questions about where the new bus routes will go can call the city at 765-456-7556. The buses will continue to run, as they have been, 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.