NILES FREE BUS MODERNIZATION PROJECT SUMMARY
Pace and the Village of Niles conducted a study to improve integration between the Niles Free Bus routes and the Pace Milwaukee Corridor Arterial Rapid Transit (ART) Bus project. The objective is to improve access for residents, employers, and businesses in the Village of Niles. The Niles Free Bus system (Pace routes 411, 412, and 413) has a unique identity and long history of serving the residents of Niles. Today the Free Bus connects community locations with stops at Golf Mill Mall, Village Hall, the Leaning Tower YMCA, and the Village Crossing Shopping Center, among other locations. Transit improvement projects, including the Milwaukee Corridor ART project, present an opportunity to modernize and interconnect the current service and increase the utility of the Free Bus system for the benefit of the entire community.
The community outreach process was extensive and included the following engagement activities:
- Stakeholder Interviews conducted in February 2014 gathered valuable input from large employers, shopping centers, Notre Dame High School, Village departments, the local YMCA, and the Chamber of Commerce.
- On-Board and Online Surveys (Winter/Spring 2014) were conducted to identify rider demographics, travel patterns, unmet needs, and perceptions of the service. 1,058 onboard surveys and 21 online surveys were collected.
- Project Fact Sheet outlining project background, objectives, key deliverables, project schedule, and ways to stay engaged in the process. The fact sheet was distributed on all Niles Free Bus routes and at key activity centers throughout the Village of Niles.
- The Village Website and Social Media provided an opportunity to distribute project information and obtain feedback from residents. The website included the on-line surveys and links to the project's Facebook page and Twitter feed.
- Pop-up Meetings were conducted at four Village of Niles events and locations in March and May of 2014 to distribute information on the project and solicit public input.
- Two Rounds of Public Meetings were held in March and June of 2014 to present information on existing conditions at the first and the proposed service alternatives at the second. A total of 42 individuals attended the second public meeting when the proposed service alternative was presented.
The majority of existing Niles Free Bus riders are highly dependent on transit for mobility needs. Nearly 60% of Niles Free Bus riders earn an annual household income of no more than $30,000, while more than 70% of riders do not have access to a personal automobile. Most riders use the Niles Free Bus service to access shopping and work destinations, both locally and regionally. In addition, a large amount of latent travel demand exists for longer distance work trips, suggesting the importance of seamless connections between the Niles Free Bus routes to other regional services that Pace provides.
The Niles Free Bus routes (Pace routes 411, 412, and 413) combined carry fewer than 750 riders per day. Relative to other Pace routes that service the Village of Niles the ridership is relatively low, even within the Village. This is attributable to a number of factors but the limitations imposed by circulating only with Niles and the relative indirectness of the service are major factors. In the course of the study one of the alternatives considered was to use the Free Bus to connect to transit hubs, especially Skokie Swift, outside the Village of Niles. A universal decision was reached to continue to focus the Free Bus service within Niles.
However, as a direct result Pace is now aware of service gaps in the existing Pace network and has committed to a work plan item to resolve those gaps. The recommended plan resulting from the study (see description below) will improve service to most Niles residents with:
- Faster, more direct, simpler service within Niles
- Consistent 30 minute frequency all day, every day
- Better timed trips for school and employment destinations
- Service 7 days a week for all routes
- Earlier morning service
- Convenient transfers for Free Bus riders at Golf Mill Mall and Village Crossing Shopping Center
- Full integration with Milwaukee ART at Niles Park District Oasis Water Park and Golf Mill Mall.
- The end result is a forecasted 9 % improvement in annual ridership on the service.
Three service alternatives were developed to meet the needs of the residents and accomplish project goals. After discussions and presentations to key stakeholders, business groups, and the general public, the alternatives were refined into a preferred service alternative. The proposed service alternative takes advantage of the strengths observed in the existing system and improves areas of the system in need of updating. Importantly, by improving the directness of the service and trimming unproductive service, the recommended plan uses about 1% fewer bus hours than the current service and one less vehicle. Therefore, it will cost slightly less to operate on an annual basis than the current service.
To improve transit access for Niles residents, employers, and businesses, the Niles Free Bus System will change beginning May 2, 2016.
Service changes include a new service, Route 410; the restructuring of Route 411 and Route 412; and the discontinuation of Route 413. EFFECTIVE MONDAY, MAY 2, 2016.
To improve transit access for Niles residents, employers, and businesses, the Niles Free Bus System will change beginning May 2, 2016. Service enhancements include more frequent service, a simpler routing structure, improved service to key destinations, faster and more direct service within Niles, early morning and weekend service on all routes, and better timed trips for school and employment destinations.
- A new service, Route 410, will be created -
NEW Route 410 East Niles Local will serve the east side of Niles, replacing part of Route 411. Service will run every 30 minutes.
- Routes 411 and 412 will be restructured -
Route 411 Niles Local Service will be split into two separate routes. A redesigned Route 411, renamed as "West Niles Local"will serve the west side of Niles, while a new Route 410 will replace service on the east side of Niles. Service in areas with no or low ridership will be discontinued or reduced. Service will run every 30 minutes.
Route 412 Niles Shopper's Special will be extended to serve Dee Road, while discontinuing or reducing service in unproductive areas. It will be renamed as "North Niles Circulator and service will run every 30-40 minutes.
- Route 413 will be discontinued -
Route 413 Niles South End Special will be discontinued, and Routes 410 and 411 will replace service in its high ridership areas.
At Golf Mill Mall, convenient transfers can be made between new Routes 410, 411, and 412. At Village Crossing Shopping Center, convenient transfers can be made between new Routes 410 and 411. At both locations, most transfers between new Routes 410 and 411 can occur without even having to get off the bus. Please consult the new schedules, dated May 2, 2016, for connection opportunities.