“Part of it is that when the economy is struggling, that’s when people need us most,” she says. “What they normally use is getting more and more expensive to use, so people are looking to us and to increase services to have more frequency at a time when no one wants to tax anybody and the federal funding has changed.”
Increased service demand and tighter funding has required some new approaches for Matbus, such as replacing flag stops with designated sign stops. “This strategy, often used by larger transit systems, is estimated to reduce stops and keep the route performance on time,” Van Beek says. Fargo-Moorhead is a regional medical center and there are many people moving in from rural areas as they age. Van Beek says, “Meeting the transportation needs for this growing population will be a challenge in the near future. With our cold weather — snow and ice — the elderly are at risk for injury and disability, so demand responsive service to the door, which is more costly to operate, will no doubt increase.
“Innovative approaches and partnerships will be even more needed in the future.”
“Effective route frequency for a small transit agency is usually more difficult to achieve,” Bommelman says. “In our agency, we use a hub-and-spoke system, which can impair the ability to provide more frequent service.
“Of course funding issues also contribute to the inability to provide more route frequency.”
As is common with smaller agencies, at Matbus folks “wear many hats.” Bommelman says, “In our organization we have four staff responsible for marketing, purchasing, operations, federal and state reporting, grant management, safety and security, emergency preparedness, human resources management, ridership, and accounting.” And when it comes to the challenge of reporting requirements, she says Matbus falls under the small urban category, yet many of the same programs, thresholds and reporting requirements are the same as the larger agencies (more than 200,000). “With the small staff, it is challenging to meet the same level of requirements as a larger agency, at times.”
Matbus utilizes advertising revenues from benches and the vehicle interiors and exteriors to provide local match revenue for state and federal grants. Matbus has stretched its marketing dollars by entering into trade agreements for advertisements with radio, newspaper and other businesses. Schildberger explains, “In an atmosphere of declining revenues and increasing marketing demands, Matbus has developed substantial trade agreements with local radio stations and athletic teams. These agreements have allowed Matbus advertising to be front and center on the area’s highest-rated radio stations and at the region’s most attended events.
“The agreements are annually valued at more than $50,000 per year. In exchange, the radio group and athletic teams are given free bus wrap advertising.”
Schildberger also says that Matbus has forged a strong partnership with one of the regional medical centers to encourage its employees to utilize transit. By marketing its services to the choice rider, Matbus offered the medical center a reduced bulk rate on passes and individual trip-planning services. “Through this collaborative and innovative venture, Matbus has enjoyed a 400 percent increase in the number of program participants and the medical center has found a resolution to its lack of parking.”
Matbus is also beginning to partner with the local visitor and convention bureau to afford transit a place at the table when bids are being assembled for meetings and conventions. “Matbus is striving to make its service a viable option not only for our residents but also for the area’s visitors.” Schildberger adds, “Additionally, we are collaborating with our downtown business groups to showcase the fantastic service we provide to our community’s revitalized and burgeoning downtown core.”