By Scott Smith Kokomo Tribune
---- — It started a week ago, with a “soft opening” which nonetheless became public knowledge very quickly.
Monday it became official: The city of Kokomo’s City Line bus service now serves 275 stops.
The free bus service, known informally as “the trolley,” has undergone a long-awaited expansion, bringing almost all areas of the city within close proximity of a bus stop.
“This is the largest ‘free-to-the-rider’ public transportation system in the state,” Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said. “This expansion just indicates how popular and needed this service is.”
The bus service, which runs Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., is fully accessible to the disabled and offers free Wi-Fi. The service has been free to ride since the city reinstated bus service in 2010 after a 46-year hiatus.
Two new buses, purchased at a cost of nearly $900,000, are now on the streets. Federal transportation funds picked up 80 percent of the cost. Dozens of new bus stops cover the city.
For far northsiders, the Green and Yellow lines are now in service, running up Apperson Way and looping around Washington Street, as well as heading out Morgan Street to Ivy Tech.
The west side now has the Orange Line, which loops around Webster Street, Dixon Road, West Boulevard and Lincoln Road. It takes in Kokomo High School and the medical offices on Dixon, both locations which city transportation director Tammy Corn called “high request” locations for bus service.
The Blue Line, which serves the Markland Mall, Meijer and Walmart, stays the same, but the Red Line, which takes in the far south of Kokomo, is greatly expanded.
Instead of stopping at Center Road, the Red Line now takes in all of Indian Heights, running in a loop around Council Ring Boulevard once per hour. The Red Line still goes by Community Howard Hospital and Indiana University Kokomo.
Goodnight said he’s not concerned about budgeting factors forcing the system to begin charging.
“I’m not going to charge people to ride, the same way I’m not going to charge kids to use the swingsets in the parks,” he said. “This is a priority for us.”
Abbie Smith, president of the United Way of Howard County, praised her predecessors at the local chapter for “sticking with it and getting the job done,” when it came to advocating for public transportation.
“You’d be hard pressed to find a better return on your investment than public transportation,” Smith said. “This is not a recreational system; this is something people need to go to doctor’s offices, to go to school, and to go to jobs.”
Corn said city officials didn’t announce last week’s startup of the new routes, but said riders learned about the changes quickly.
She said in the past few days, ridership has increased from around 1,100 riders a day to around 1,300, and said that number is expected to go up as people become familiar with the new routes.
More info Kokomo's free bus service has expanded from 118 stops to 275 stops. Here is the new route map: http://bit.ly/13GbxIJ More questions? Call the city at 765-456-7556.