NORTH MANKATO — The city of North Mankato is at a crossroads concerning the long-term future of its public transit options.
North Mankato plans to continue its expanded busing hours and its dial-a-ride service through RubyRide this year, but ongoing questions over ridership and financial viability could persuade the city to change lanes in a few years.
City staff say the expanded transit options in 2018 and 2019 led to a 14% increase in ridership and an increased cost per trip. Yet fewer than 30% of riders under the expanded transit service, which connects to the Cherry Street stop in Mankato, come from North Mankato.
Most of those riders are instead Mankato residents getting a lift to their jobs on the north side of the Minnesota River.
“So people are instead using the bus service to get to businesses on the upper side of North Mankato,” Mayor Mark Dehen said.
RubyRide also is getting a mixed review from residents. The dial-a-ride service transported 1,602 riders from July through December 2019 with an average of 1.14 riders per service hour. The city spent about $13,217 to subsidize rides.
Finance Director Kevin McCann told the North Mankato City Council riders appear to enjoy the service for its flexibility and its accessibility, but technological issues have prevented the business from expanding its services throughout the area. Some have complained about inconsistent wait times and customer service as well.
McCann and City Administrator John Harrenstein said they’ve heard RubyRide will sort out some of the technological issues that have prevented it from getting a license to transport people with disabilities in Mankato, which could begin as soon as March. And city officials see opportunities for more evening and weekend hours, after-school activity transportation, and partnership with other municipalities.
At the same time, ridership needs to increase for the city to save money on subsidizing RubyRide services.
Still, council members say they’d like to see some fixed goals for the city’s transit services during the next year.
“We need to have some benchmarks in transit that’s linked to knowing how they’re doing,” Council member Sandra Oachs said.
Harrenstein said it’s too early for city officials to give recommendations on future transit options, but the city will continue to monitor how residents are using RubyRides and other public transportation options. The city’s transit options are mostly funded through state and federal grants.