DUBUQUE, Iowa - Monday started National Transit Week, and many cities in Iowa are encouraging people who don’t normally ride the bus to hop on board. City leaders in Dubuque say they’ve struggled for years to get more people to use public transportation. New numbers about public transit usage indicate that’s now a problem of the past.
In May of 2013, ridership topped out at a little over 40,000 for that month. This year, the May figure jumped to more than 46,000.
The distinctive clang of the trolley lets tourists know their ride has arrived.
Tourist Ken Beeman said, “We got to see the sights and the driver told us about some of the things. It was great.”
Dubuque’s free trolley takes travelers on a tour of the town. The trolley is actually part of the city’s bus system, which is now called “The Jule.”
The Jule’s Operations Supervisor Jodi Johnson said, “Even though they’re free, they count as riders. So we count every person who gets on the bus as a rider.”
Like many city bus systems, the Jule’s federal funding is based on the number of people who ride it.
In 2011 the city got a whole new fleet of buses.
Johnson said, “Just getting out with the old and in with the new. When we got the new buses, they were all green and they had the Jule logo on them. It was just kind of a fresh beginning.”
Also in 2011, the city started its nightrider program. That allows riders to travel by bus late at night on the weekends, typically after the bars close.
“I remember three years ago when it started, I thought, ‘come on, let’s get 150 riders this weekend.” And now we are up to almost one thousand,” said Johnson.
The city also restructured its popular shopping circular, reducing the hour and a half ride to about 30 minutes.