May 08--OTTUMWA -- Ottumwa Transit's buses will likely get some new accessories — in the form of bike racks.
At the bike rack committee's first meeting last week, Ottumwa Transit Executive Director Diane Gawronski said there "might be some grant money forthcoming from an organization who can help fund the bike racks," though she was unable to name the organization pending approval of the grant funds.
"I am delighted that we have the interested parties participating in the meetings and trying to bring the bike racks to fruition," she said.
Possible funding means the original thought that the committee would have to do fundraising in the community may no longer be necessary, though Tom Ellis still thinks the fundraising is important.
Ellis, along with Wes Westmoreland, spearheaded the idea to install bike racks on the city's buses.
"I still believe fundraising needs to be a part of it," Ellis said.
After getting 157 signatures on a petition, he and Westmoreland brought their idea to the transit board.
"I think we need to put the bike racks on all the buses all at once in order to properly make this work," Ellis said, as it was proposed to only install two to three bike racks per year. "If the drivers get to choose which buses they want to drive, if they don't choose the buses with the racks, then they're not readily available."
Since bike racks are common in many transit agencies, Gawronski said she doesn't see them as a detriment in any way.
Sheri Kyras, director of CyRide in Ames, agreed, saying bike racks are only a positive for city buses.
All of CyRide's 72 buses are equipped with bike racks, and Kyras has seen an approximately 70 percent increase each year in the usage of the bike racks since they were installed in 2009.
"We decided to go forward with it because we had a lot of requests from customers coming from other areas, other cities who already had them on their buses and were used to them," Kyras said.
CyRide started out slowly, only installing bike racks on several of the buses at first, but after seeing a very positive community reaction, they went back and installed bike racks on all the vehicles.
"It takes a little time for people to get comfortable with it, but there really are not any downsides," Kyras said.
She said she has heard no complaints from drivers or customers regarding the racks.
Her first concern was that it would throw the drivers off schedule, "but that has not materialized in our system," since it only takes most customers 15 to 20 seconds to slip the bike into the rack.
Cambus, the University of Iowa's transit service, decided against bike racks on their buses. The main issue was time, a former supervisor said.
"With our passenger load it would be absolutely crazy," said Kylan Geest, Cambus dispatcher and previous supervisor.
Occasionally the bike racks -- which can hold two bikes at a time -- will be full or a customer will forget their bike on the rack, but these are situations that have only occurred about three to four times a year, Kyras said.
"Our belief is they should not cause any duress to our drivers and it's our understanding that the bike racks make it easy for the riders to mount the bikes by themselves," Gawronski said. "Once everyone gets acclimated to that, it will become second nature to put them on and take them off."
Kyras said it would make sense for Ottumwa Transit to install bike racks, or, for that matter, for any transit agency to do so.
"It's appropriate for any community that wants to promote a healthier lifestyle, by walking or biking to a bus stop and using the bus," Kyras said. "It's a great benefit to a community of any size."
Gawronski said the committee will bring its findings to the next Ottumwa Transit Advisory Board meeting on May 23, as they are still researching pricing options.
Citizens split in bike racks poll
In a poll on the Courier's website, we asked "What do you think of the proposal to place bike racks on city buses?" More than 300 responded:
--In favor of the bike racks: 49 percent
--Not in favor of the bike racks: 51 percent
The Courier's Facebook page saw several responses as well, ranging from "We don't have a big enough city to have bike racks on city buses" to "The bike will fall off when the bus hits one of the many potholes."
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