CR buses getting bike racks

According to the city’s Status & Information Report for the week of May 19, Cedar Rapids Transit plans to add bike racks to the front of 21 buses. They will be installed on all 16 of the Thomas SLF low floor buses and five of the 1990 RTS buses. The racks that hold two bikes each are to be standard on all new bus purchases in the future.

New branding, buses for Cedar Rapids Transit

Cedar Rapids’ bus system has dropped the EAGL moniker and the department name Five Seasons Transportation Parking, as transit and parking are now separated under new city organization. The EAGL name, an acronym for “Environmental Alternative for a Greater Lifestyle” was introduced back in 1993, replacing the previous nickname, “Easyrider” and design scheme consisting of white buses with a simple red stripe down the sides.

After city reorganizing, the new separate transit department is now officially known as Cedar Rapids Transit, but system re-branding has not yet taken place. Currently the buses retain the same teal color scheme on the old buses and wavy green scheme on the new buses, but some of the EAGL and FST&P labels have been removed.

New buses are also in store for Cedar Rapids. I contacted transit manager Brad DeBrower who told me there is funding for three new buses is programmed into the proposed budget but it will be at least a year before they are delivered and hit the streets. He said he expects a new Cedar Rapids Transit color and design scheme for the buses will come at that time.

I am pleased with the new name and re-branding to come. EAGL was never a very strong identification as most residents simply referred to it as “the bus.” A striking branding and catchy name can really help increase community awareness of transit, as evident with CyRide in Ames, Cambus in Iowa City, and Des Moines MTA’s recent re-branding as DART. FST&P had long strove to serve the needs of the elderly and disabled in the community, which is good, but severely lacked in public image and identity. Hopefully the re-branding will increase visibility of public transit in Cedar Rapids and encourage more able-bodied, financially-stable riders.

Cedar Rapids Bus Photos

I’ve posted photos of EAGL transit buses in Cedar Rapids from this summer. The majority of the fleet is made up of older GMC RTS transit buses, but in the past year or so has expanded with new low floor Thomas Dennis SLF200 buses. Above is a view of the Ground Transportation Center downtown along 1st. Street SE. The GTC was built in the early 80’s with a federal transportation grant. As you can see, pedestrian access to the bus station is far from optimal. There are no direct pedestrian pathways in or out of the bus station without walking across the bus driveway. The City Council is currently debating moving the GTC to a new intermodal transportation facility to be built about two blocks south of the current site, and redeveloping the current station for other uses. However, since the current GTC was built with federal funding, there is uncertainty whether or not the building can abandon its intended use.

See all my EAGL photos here.

Helpful service from EAGL

I was able to get my 31 Day bus pass back today from Five Seasons Transportation. I was talking to a operations manager Brad DeBrower and asked him how often riders put their passes into the dollar bill spot on accident. He told me more often than you’d think and took me back to the office to show me a fare box they had set up. I told him that I’m a driver for CyRide during the school year and turns out he graduated from Iowa State in Community and Regional Planning. He complimented CyRide’s great system, and said he’d like to make a lot of improvements at Five Seasons to become more like it. At any rate, I was glad to talk with him and now know there’s at least one good guy at Five Seasons Transportation. Even though I still believe it a very lacking transit service, my impression of the Five Seasons staff has fortunately improved. I now, once again look forward to being a regular transit rider in Cedar Rapids.

First Impressions of EAGL

Today was my first day as a regular bus rider with Five Seasons Transportation and Parking (EAGL) in Cedar Rapids. I purchased a 31 Day Pass and plan on riding to and from my summer job downtown at City Hall. Based on my first day, I cannot say I’m too impressed.

I boarded unit 808 on Route 3 near my house at about 7:30am. I said hello to the driver and began looking for the slot to slide my pass card into. All I found was a slot to insert dollar bills so I began inserting my pass. As I let it go, the driver informed me not to put it in there. I apologized and he replied, “You’re the one who’ll be sorry.” He then pointed out the slot for pass cards, hidden behind the fare box, and told me I’d have to wait up to a week for the bank to send it back. At the next stop, two older women got on and one of them almost made the same mistake I did, but the driver was able to stop her soon enough. I didn’t feel like such an idiot now that another passenger was also confused with the slots.

When I got to the bus station, I talked to the dispatcher and he told me to check back until they can get my pass out. Unfortunately, they could not give me the benefit of the doubt and just give me a new pass. Luckily, though, my pass will not be counting down the days left while stuck in the fare box, since it was not actually scanned. (The passes are good for 31 days after the first use.)

After work, I walked a few blocks from City Hall to the bus station and waited about 25 minute for my bus to depart. As buses began arriving, I went outside to wait. Most of the buses are older GMC RTS buses, which make up a majority of the fleet, and some new Thomas Dennis SLF 200 low floor buses. The buses are branded as “EAGL,” short for “Environmental Alternative for Greater Living,” with eagle head logos at the front of either side. The older GMC buses have a white and teal color scheme, with the bottom half in teal and white on top half, though many of them are covered in full bus ads wraps. I have never liked this color scheme so luckily the new Thomas Built Buses came with a new scheme. Mostly white, the bottom portions have curving blue and green (not teal) trimming. The top is stripped in green and has some quote about customer service in white lettering. The fleet is made up of 30 and 35 foot long (old and new) buses.

My ride home was on a GMC RTS bus, wrapped in a full-bus Yellow Book ad. I used a fare ticket to ride, which the dispatcher had given me in the morning. I sat at the rear of the bus so the ride wasn’t very smooth for me. The rear doors rattled at the slightest bump. Once all but one other passenger had gotten off, the driver started making small talk with the older man, apparently a regular. I thought this was nice after having a day full of relatively unfriendly encounters with the transit personnel.

Overall I think Five Seasons Transportation is lacking in service. With limited operation hours (about 6am to 6:30pm on weekdays) and physical coverage of the community, it is not a very convenient or timely transportation option. It is good for some specific trips, such as my daily commute to work since a route goes right by my house, but to actually get around town, it is simply inadequate. They do provide printed pocket schedules; however, they do not include route maps. The only full route map complete with schedules is located at the GTC. Individual route maps and schedules are available on their website, but that is of little help if you do not have access to a computer or the internet, or if you were to actually try to get around town casually using the bus. A number of minor changes could imrpove the system’s ease of use and convenience for the public.

Riding the Cool Bus

Imagine being able to get around conveniently and timely without ever having to drive a car. This is the general goal of public transportation, however this has hardly been achieved in the United States, thanks to our pro-sprawl, individualistic “American dream.” Public transportation used to thrive in America, with compact cities and streetcar lines in just about every city with a couple thousand or more. But starting with the auto boom in the early 1900s, and then interstate highway construction and suburbanization of the ’50s and ’60s, public transportation declined significantly in the U.S. during the 20th Century.

Today most communities have bus-only systems (see GM streetcar buyout) and operate on subsidies, drawing minimal revenue from passenger fares. Low ridership plagues many systems because most people who can afford a car, drive themselves. This has created a mentality among the public that transit is only for poor and disabled citizens and it is considered a misfortune to have to ride. Truthfully, it is a misfortune since low ridership and sprawling communities make it difficult to provide convenient and efficient service to those who do ride.

Back at school in Ames I began a new part time job in February as a transit driver for CyRide. It is one of the largest bus system in the state of Iowa with a fleet of over 60 buses. Operating in the fairly small city of Ames it is actually quite comprehensive. With no less than half-hourly service and running till midnight or later seven days a week, it is almost comparable to the convenience of driving a car, especially for Iowa State students like myself, who ride for free. Most fixed routes go through campus and circulator routes are operated on school days so it is not unusual to see five to ten buses pass by while walking (or riding) to class. Obviously, most of CyRide’s 4 million plus annual riders are students, but the system benefits city residents alike. Many professors have monthly passes and take CyRide to work regularly.

In contrast to CyRide, Cedar Rapids’ transit system (EAGL) does not provide that same comprehensive service, with less frequent service that ends before 7pm and no service Sunday. Growing up in Cedar Rapids, I very rarely rode the bus and never viewed it as a viable transportation alternative for errands or entertainment. This summer I plan to buy a bus pass and ride Route 3 to and from work. This should allow me better insight into the system and how good or bad it actually is for a regular rider. Look for another post on this in the future.

Image taken from CyRide website.

> CyRide (City of Ames)
> Five Seasons Transportation & Parking (City of Cedar Rapids)
> Wikipedia: Great American Streetcar Scandal


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