Public transit use on the rise in Greater Des Moines

Increases follow investments in DART Central Station, DART Forward 2035 Plan

Use of public transit is on the rise in Greater Des Moines, DART ridership data shows. DART’s ridership increased more than 7 percent in the first six months of fiscal year 2014, compared to the same period of fiscal year 2013. Ridership totaled 347,213 in December – a 15 percent increase over December 2012.


Ridership figures for the month of December are especially significant, because December is the first reporting period for which year-over-year comparisons can be made on all of DART’s individual routes after the network redesign of 2012. (A list of the fastest growing routes is included below.)

“The region’s investment in public transit is paying off,” said Steve Van Oort, Polk County Supervisor and Chair of the DART Commission. “People told us they would ride DART more often if the bus went more places, more frequently, with faster travel times – and that’s what we’re seeing happen in the numbers.”

The ridership gains follow significant investments into the region’s public transit system:

  • The $21 million DART Central Station opened in November 2012 in downtown Des Moines, providing riders with a much-improved experience over the former Walnut Street Transit Mall;
  • A redesigned and expanded network of bus routes was implemented in June and November of 2012 as part of the DART Forward 2035 Plan;
  • Service improvements, including frequency additions, a new route and  later hours, were made in August 2013;
  • Technology enhancements such as the MyDART Trip Planner BETA were launched in October 2013, making it easier for people to plan their trips on transit. People can now also search for transit directions using Google Maps and Bing Maps.

Additional improvements will be made in the coming year as part of the DART Forward 2035 Plan. Real-time bus location information will become available later in 2014. A new fare collection system with smart cards will be added in late 2015.

DART promoted the improved routes in October 2013 during Try Transit Week, a seven-day promotion that resulted in 108,000 rides – a 20 percent increase over the previous week’s total of more than 90,000 rides. In February, DART will host “DART Date Night” on Friday, February 14, offering free rides after 5 p.m. for Valentine’s Day.

Fastest Growing New or Improved DART Routes

Route Name

Service Improvement

December 2012 Ridership

December 2013 Ridership

Percent Increase

Route 60 – Ingersoll/University

New route



67 percent

Altoona Express Route 99

Added trips



44 percent

E.P. True Express Route 96

Service to Jordan Creek



41 percent

Jordan Creek / Valley West Crosstown Route 52

New route



36 percent

Flex Route 72 – West Des Moines and Clive

New route; replaced WDM On Call



35 percent

Route 15 – 6th Avenue

Streamlined route



26 percent

Route 6 – Indianola Avenue

Streamlined route; added frequency



24 percent

Route 17 – Hubbell Avenue

Streamline route; added frequency



22 percent

Ankeny Express Route 98

Midday service added



21 percent


A different kind of ‘bus party’

Good morning, readers.

Please allow The Bus Blog to introduce a group called Cedar Rapids Bus Party and its founder, Samantha (@busparty).

Rest assured, these “bus parties” aren’t what you might imagine them to be. They have quite a different mission than providing designated drivers to the masses. Rather, Samantha organizes monthly bus parties to raise awareness of public transportation in Cedar Rapids. Click here to check out her website.

Hers is a cool concept for introducing potential new riders to public transit: Meet downtown on a Saturday morning, hop a bus, and tour a portion of the city you might not visit otherwise, all the while learning how easy it is to ride the bus, in a fun, social setting.

Samantha took this project upon herself independently, and is not employed by nor officially affiliated with Cedar Rapids Transit, though it seems safe to assume she’s someone the agency would like having in town. Definitely a transit advocate, she is.

So when Samantha visited Des Moines this weekend, your editor at The Bus Blog was happy to meet up with her, along with  Alexander Grgurich (@alexanderdsm), the chair of the Transit Riders Advisory Committee. She kicked around ideas with us, and discussed the possibility of such “bus parties” happening here in Des Moines.

It’s a discussion worth having. To get you thinking, here is her description of what bus party is:

What is a Bus Party?

A bus party is how I’m trying to raise awareness about public transportation in Cedar Rapids. The idea is to set a day and time each month for people to meet at the bus transfer station downtown and ride one of the 14 routes. And now you’re wondering why anyone would do this. Here are the top 3 reasons I think you should join us:

  • Low barrier to entry

Low barrier to entry means that you don’t have to deal with the confusion of riding the local public transit system for the first time. I have been riding the Cedar Rapids buses since 2006, and I still think the information hunt necessary to find where routes go, bus stops closest to your departure and destination sites, and stop times is ridiculous. If you haven’t seen what I’m talking about, pop over to the transit site and just find the closest stop to your house. Most people that don’t have to ride the bus stop trying at this point, but bus parties are meant to get past this hurdle. They are also meant to familiarize people with the process of getting on, paying, and making the bus stop. No big issues for sure, but these are concerns that first time riders have and excuses that prevent potential riders from starting.

  • Tour the metro area for only $1.25

Tour your town! You would pay $10-$20 to ride a bus tour in a foreign city, so why not pay $1.25 to see where you already live? I don’t have a reason to ride all of the bus routes because my daily activities don’t take me everywhere in town, but I still want to see what it’s like in different neighborhoods and scope out new places to visit. Let someone else do the driving and take the opportunity to gaze out the window. You may find a park you didn’t know about, a restaurant to try out next weekend, or a neighborhood with your dream house for sale.

  • Meet and socialize with other citizens

Meet new people or bring friends you already have. It’s a cheap way to get out and have an experience. While you can’t drink on the buses (sorry, not that kind of party), you can stay downtown after the route ride and support one of the local establishments for lunch.

To get invitation updates automatically, follow our blog.

Questions or feedback? Email us at


Questions or comments for The Bus Blog? Send them to


State’s first car-sharing program launches in Decorah

Good morning, readers.

Luther College of Decorah has partnered with U Car Share to launch the first car-sharing program in the state of Iowa.

Students, faculty, staff and even community members are eligible to participate with a one-time fee of $25 plus hourly rental rates starting at $4.95, according to Luther’s website. Click here for the full details.

“We’re very excited at Luther College to be partnering with U Car Share to offer more sustainable transportation solutions to students, faculty, staff and community members,” exclaimed Dan Bellrichard, Sustainability coordinator, Luther College.  “This car sharing program, in addition to our other transportation efforts, makes it easy for students to attend Luther without having to bring a car, yet still have the mobility a car offers.”

The Bus Blog knows of at least one advocate for alternative transportation who would like to see this king of thing take off in Des Moines. Any others?

Commuting habits are changing, slowly, in Greater Des Moines

Good afternoon, readers.

Here’s a trend that Greater Des Moines transit advocates will like to see:

The share of workers commuting by driving alone has declined from 81.5 percent in 2000 to 80.1 percent in 2009, according to data compiled by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program.

Click here to play with the very cool Interactive: State of Metropolitan America Indicator Map.

Though less than 2 percentage points, the drop was among the highest in the nation’s 100 largest metro areas. Only 12 other metros, including Boston, New York and Seattle, saw the share decline further. Twenty-five saw the share decline but not as much as in Des Moines-West Des Moines. Two metros saw no movement. And 59 saw increases in the share of workers commuting by driving alone, with the largest gain coming in Honolulu with an increase of 5.4 percentage points.

However, Greater Des Moines ranked 53rd among the nation’s largest 100 metros for the share of workers community by public transit in 2009, at only 1.7 percent.

Last but not least, Des Moines-West Des Moines ranked 22nd among the nation’s 100 largest metro cities for the share of workers commuting by carpool in 2009, at 11.1 percent. Ten years earlier, Des Moines-West Des Moines ranked 64th, at 10.8 percent.



darting around, episode 2: oops!

(Editor’s note: This post is part of an occasional series by rider and journalist Gary Barrett.)

Sometimes even the best plans go awry.  Take my day Thursday.  I’m starting a new job for a prominent financial company.  I will eventually work in downtown Des Moines but must train at their facility in Clive.

Well, I should say the part of Clive that’s nearly Waukee.  Where golf balls from the Des Moines Golf and Country Club probably regularly lob over Jordan Creek Parkway. So it’s not the most reachable place even by car.  And since I don’t have one right now, I knew it would be a challenge getting there.

As it turns out, DART doesn’t really have a bus that goes to the door of my new employer.  So I have to get out at 71st and Westown Parkway in West Des Moines, walk past Hy-Vee and across the street to the building.  At least that’s the way it’s supposed to go.

Wednesday was my first day on the job and I totally got the maps on the DART website confused and ended up missing the stop.  I got off the Westown Express on Vista, recovered and took a cab from the Burger King there back to the office.  I was 15 minutes late.

Fast forward back to Thursday.  I needed to take the #7 bus that’s supposed to be at East 25th and Aurora at 6:20am downtown in order to meet up with the Westown Express bus.  It was getting close to that time so instead I had my ride take me to East 29th and Euclid so I wouldn’t miss it.  It was supposed to be there at 6:26.

I waited and waited and finally about five minutes later a bus shows up.  But it was definitely not going to get me downtown in time to catch the Westown Express. I boarded that bus and sat down, then pulled out my cell phone.

Trying to hide my exasperation, I called into the DART schedule number (283-8100), spoke to a really polite and helpful woman on the phone and explained my situation.  After a few exchanges she didn’t tell me I was out of luck. (With the new job, that would have meant I was also out of a job).

Instead she told me that a supervisor would meet me downtown to make sure I got to work.  He did and I did and it turned around what could have been a very bad morning. It’s that extra bit of help that separates an agency that cares about its customers from some of the cities I’ve been in where if you don’t make the bus, you’re stuck.

Kudos to Brad Miller and all his staff for instilling the high level of customer service that I saw today!

Now, to part two of my post today: The last episode of my “DARTing Around” postings we talked about good things that are coming.  I want to add another one to the mix.

One of the things I’m told is coming to DART is a GPS locator system that will allow DART, and eventually the public, to know exactly where every bus is at any given moment.  I saw a test run of an early version of this in Cedar Rapids and it was cool.

At their ground transportation center, there were monitors just like the airports to tell you what buses were on time or not. With the new system will eventually come the ability to monitor buses on the web.

Google has a beta transit feature that I am dying to see the DART system plugged into. If I had that system today, it might have mitigated the problem.  So, just like the DART downtown hub, this can’t come soon enough!

Imagine being able to look on your iPhone or Android phone app and see exactly where your bus is and when it will be on your corner.  That’s the kind of data we all need on those snowy or rainy days so we can seek shelter if the bus is delayed.

data show youths driving less. blame the internet?

In 1978, half of the 16-year-olds and three-quarters of the 17-year-olds in this country had driver’s licenses.

Thirty years later, it’s a different story. Among the 16-year-olds in 2008, less than a third had driver’s licenses; among 17-year-olds, not quite half did.

That data from the U.S. Department of Transportation has caught the muse of the Advertising Age, which recently raised the question: Is the digital revolution driving the decline in U.S. car culture?

Here’s an  excerpt:

William Draves blames the internet. Mr. Draves, president of Lern, a consulting firm which focuses mainly on higher education, and co-author of “Nine Shift,” maintains that the digital age is reshaping the U.S. and world early in this century, much like the automobile reshaped American life early in the last century.

His theory is that almost everything about digital media and technology makes cars less desirable or useful and public transportation a lot more relevant. Texting while driving is dangerous and increasingly illegal, as is watching mobile TV or working on your laptop. All, at least under favorable wireless circumstances, work fine on the train. The internet and mobile devices also have made telecommuting increasingly common, displacing both cars and public transit.