Kokomo — Dawn Steward hopped off the City Line bus Thursday afternoon, just off her shift at St. Joseph Hospital.
“My husband does lawn care in town, and sometimes he’s out running around, and sometimes I take the bus home,” she said. “I love green, and anyway, it’s economic. I want to see it succeed.”
Dan Coughlin didn’t have any place to go in particular Thursday, but he was waiting on some buddies to show up to take a bus tour of the City of Firsts.
“Red line, blue line, I’ll probably just take whatever gets here first,” Coughlin said while waiting at the downtown bus terminal. “I think it’s a good thing as long as they’d find some way to fund it besides the taxpayers. I’d really like to see them get it back where it was in the ’50s and ’60s.”
Back then, the buses came every half hour, Coughlin, a longtime Kokomo resident, recalled.
“I think Kokomo needs one, but whether we can support it, I don’t know.”
Kokomo city officials say the public reaction to the City Line trolley has greatly exceeded expectations thus far, with the bus service consistently serving more than 300 people each day.
Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said 447 people rode the City Line on Wednesday.
“I rode it the other day, and met with a lot of different people, and most people seem very favorable to having this,” Goodnight said. “I think it’s off to a good start.”
City Line director Tammy Corn said the bus service actually averaged over 400 riders per day last week. Bit by bit, numbers keep going upward.
“I think there’s a novelty factor, and we will probably see our numbers decrease at some point,” she said. “But since we’re exceeding our expectations right now, we’re ahead of the game.”
The city’s consultants for the bus system thought 50 to 75 riders a day was possibly all that could be expected in the opening weeks, she added.
But advocates for Kokomo’s low-income residents, including United Way president Lori Tate, Kokomo Rescue Mission director Van Taylor and Kokomo Urban Outreach director Jeff Newton, have been actively involved in promoting the new bus service.
That’s partially because those agencies have long pushed for a bus service. Various needs assessment surveys have circulated around Kokomo over the years, and for the past 20 years, bus service has topped the list, Corn said.
Kokomo Urban Outreach volunteers have already started organizing “trolley parties” with some of the residents they work with, with residents throwing grocery store receipts into a hat and then holding a drawing for gift cards.
The idea, Newton said, is simply to get low income people to use the bus for shopping needs.
“For so long, its been difficult for people in many neighborhoods in the inner cities to buy groceries,” he said. “We want to encourage them to use their food stamps wisely, and to shop where they’ll stretch the farthest.”
Right now, bus drivers are talking to riders, asking questions about why they’re riding the bus and where they’d like to go.
For the next six to eight months, that process of collecting information will continue, as well as continuous practice for the drivers at getting times down as closely as possible to the posted route schedules.
Eventually, city officials hope the higher-than-expected ridership results in more federal transportation funding for the program, which now runs 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
More information about the bus service is available by calling 765-456-7388.