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A bus route and paratransit services to the University of Mary will become permanent despite slow growth in ridership.

The Bismarck City Commission voted unanimously on Tuesday to continue Bis-Man Transit's green route to the university after two trial runs.

In 2016, the city commission agreed to operate the green route as a pilot program for a year. The route needed to generate $40,000 in revenue, but ended up producing only about $2,700.

After that, commissioners opted to discontinue the service, but in September agreed to a second pilot route with certain stipulations and metrics, including increasing ridership on a monthly basis.

The second pilot route was approved to run during the 2018-19 school year until June 30.

Despite not having high ridership on the green route, U-Mary has produced $15,000 in bus pass sales — more revenue than any other Bis-Man Transit route, according to Director Roy Rickert.

"We've made a lot of progress with the university, working closely with them, as well as we've started a steering committee amongst all the (local colleges) to increase student ridership," Rickert said.

The steering committee, which is comprised of Rickert, representatives from U-Mary, United Tribes Technical College, Bismarck State College and Commissioner Nancy Guy, will continue working on a multi-year plan to increase student ridership.

Rickert said green route ridership has "started picking up" in recent months as word has spread. Also, Bis-Man Transit has increased its presence at U-Mary, including at student and family events.

Greg Vetter, U-Mary's executive vice president, said the university has worked to grow awareness of the green route, but the biggest impact to ridership was the sale of a green route bus pass with a "premium" campus meal plan.

"We're very pleased with (the continuation of the route)," Vetter said, adding that university employees have also indicated a need for the service.

Rickert and Vetter anticipate ridership to continue to increase this fall along with student enrollment growth.

Vetter said the bus route will also be beneficial to engineering students who, starting this fall, will be taking some courses at the Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health downtown building, which the university recently purchased.

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(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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