Transit task force looks at new SDSU plan

Jeremy Fugleberg

Jeremy Fugleberg

If campus parking has hit you in the wallet, Brenda Schweitzer feels your pain.

“I have a son I’ve helped with $400 in parking fees. I understand,” she said.

Schweitzer, the director of the Brookings Area Transit Authority, is a member of a task force looking at the future of transportation on campus and around Brookings.

The next step for the group is an online survey and public forums – one just for students on March 28, and another for anyone interested on March 29. The survey is on MyStateOnline through the end of March.

“It’s an exciting, new possibility for students to explore,” said Ryan Brunner, executive director of the South Dakota Student Federation and a student member of the task force. He said the study will be an important initial tool to take a look at new transportation options – to possibly be phased in over time.

“If we want to start a transit program or park-and-ride, we can choose that,” he said.

Dave Ripplinger, a researcher at the Small Urban Rural Transit Center, is in charge of the $10,000 overall study, paid for by local groups and the state with SURTC covering additional costs.

“Brookings is a great case study, because you guys have a nice downtown, a large campus and a residential campus,” he said.

SURTC is based at North Dakota State University in Fargo, ND. Ripplinger says NDSU has a bus system that circulates across campus. In addition, several city bus routes pass through the university grounds.

Ripplinger said the bus system is a boon for students, and is especially crowded in the winter.

“It’s so nice walking outside of your apartment, getting on the bus, getting off the bus, within walking distance of where you live,” he said.

Tim Reed, a member of the Brooking City Council, said everything is on the table when it comes to funding help from the city. The city plans to do its own transit study, to be completed in July, shortly after the SURTC study is finished in June.

Brookings already pitches in $80,000 toward BATA and the in-town taxi service each year. But Reed said the city wants to get a better handle on how it can provide for all those who want or need to ride public transportation.

“With the growth in students, they’ve been pushed further and further away from campus, so I think it’s important,” he said. “Brookings isn’t the most congested city in the world, but it doesn’t hurt to take cars off the road.”

Possible options include fixed-route cross-town busses meant to shuttle in those who would otherwise drive across town. Another option is an on-campus circulator system, with busses that would circle campus, stopping at parking lots – call it a park-and-ride option.

“Another thought is a circuit vehicle from the “Blues” (apartment buildings),” said Schweitzer.

Brunner said a “Blues” bus might be a good first start. He said often those who live in those apartment walk or ride bicycles to campus, but drive when it’s cold. That quickly fills up campus parking.

“All those people would probably be willing to ride a bus,” he said.

The work isn’t done when the study is finished. There will be a need to be a look at what the resources are and if more are needed, said Reed. Even after that, it might be some time before a comprehensive plan is put into action. But Schweitzer said there’s been great cooperation between all the groups involved so far.

“Everybody understands and is ready to get on board with addressing transportation needs,” she said. “I think they’re ready. They’ve got open minds.”

The transit survey is available online at MyStateOnline through the end of March. The forum for students is set for March 28. The forum for faculty, staff and anyone else interested is set for March 29. Both forums will take place in the Lewis and Clark room of The Union at 7 p.m. Area Transit Authority busses such as this may soon be making the rounds on campus.:Brandon DeVries