While Bismarck’s rush hour may be no longer than a half hour, slow-moving traffic, jostling for parking space and fender-benders as the result of icy roads are not uncommon occurrences.
Roy Rickert, executive director of Bismarck-Mandan and Capital Area Transit Systems, sees tomorrow’s solutions in the form of increasing public transportation with a downtown hub for buses.
“The Bismarck-Mandan area remains a growing community,” Rickert said. “As such, the demands on our transportation infrastructure continue to increase. The most cost-effective way to address these issues is through the use of public transportation.”
Rickert sees a future where a restructured bus route system may expand ridership.
“With a more user-friendly system and a higher level of understanding of how the system works, I believe that the use of public transportation in this community will begin to increase tremendously,” Rickert said.
Jill Hough, program director of the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, reasons that the growing population of seniors accounts for the popularity increase in public transit.
“The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that the older adult population 65 and older will grow from 14.1 percent of the population in 2014 to 21 percent by 2040,” Hough said. “As the population increases, we cannot build ourselves out of congestion, so developing diverse and faster ways to move people is important.”
A series of public meetings have provided information to add to an extensive report that will address future transportation needs, according to Rickert.
“Changes will be coming to the transit system,” Rickert said.
These changes are unlikely to include hoverboards, teleportation or floating cars, as many futuristic movies like to depict public transportation. Rather, Rickert says that the most realistic change movies predict are self-operated cars.
“Cars that utilize GPS and proximity sensors to shuttle the passenger to their destination, without any input other than an address, are already being developed,” Rickert said. “Of course, it is much less expensive to just ride the bus.”
However, these futuristic imaginings still manage to capture the attention and interest of many people, so Hough says the ideas will still remain.
“As far as them becoming more prominent in our society, it will take generations – they are on the distant horizon,” Hough said. “The hoverboards that are on the market may be problematic, with more than 50 fires and 2 million dollars of damages.”
Hough points to these high-tech examples as inspiring other concepts. She expects technology’s use in the public transit system to increase over the next years.
“(Autonomous vehicle) technology is very expensive and will take more investment,” Hough said. “It’s difficult when finances are tight, as they presently are, to actually make these types of investments to move the technology forward in public transportation in our communities.”
Community perception of the public transit system will be vital now and into the future, according to Rickert.
“Our bus system is a safe and reliable way for the entire community to get around town,” Rickert said. “It is not just for those who have no other means of transportation. It is a good way for kids to get to their extracurricular activities, for workers to go out for lunch and for everyone to access all of the activities throughout town without having to worry about driving in the snow or finding a place to park.”
Rickert is looking at the frequency of the fixed-route buses and maintains that a transit hub in or near downtown Bismarck would remedy this problem.
“The Capitol area has been and is experiencing a very exciting amount of expansion,” Rickert said. “We want to be able to provide a transportation system that reflects well the pride and viability of the community we serve. North Dakotans have always had a love affair with their vehicle, and we hope to challenge that.”
As for the expected changes and challenges, Hough is interested to see how the public transit system and transportation improves in the future.
“Hopefully with the emerging intelligent transportation systems, the traffic will be well managed, and people will also utilize the public transportation system, thereby keeping congestion at a minimum,” Hough said.
Rickert said it is his hope that, within the next 40 years, customers will not feel the need to have a separate vehicle since public transit will be the more sensible option.
“With the continual growth of our community, in conjunction with limited funds, we as a community need to look at the most economical way to use our resources,” Rickert said. “Not only does increased traffic create a need for new roads it also creates more wear and tear on existing roads.”
These problems should be on the forefront of minds now, rather than waiting for them to become even larger issues in the future, according to Rickert.
“As the capital of this great state, we should strive to set an example for the rest of the state by increasing our use of public transportation and reducing traffic,” Rickert said.