Seventeen groups representing different sectors of the Joplin community gave input over the past three days into how the city's public transportation service could be improved.
The information is being gathered as part of an analysis of the Sunshine Lamp Trolley and Metro Area Paratransit Service, or MAPS. It will be used to develop short- and long-range plans aimed at tailoring the service to the needs and requests identified by the focus groups.
The input was beneficial because it came from different segments of those who use the public bus services, said Robert Lolley, the city's transportation coordinator.
"All the things they gave us were very important," Lolley said. "Some of the ideas they gave us we had not really thought about before."
One of those was the importance of extending the hours of service and the areas served for those wanting to find higher-paying jobs or use public transportation to their jobs in the industrial parks.
Lolley said a number of those who spoke at the meetings said that because they do not have much income, they do not have cars. They could get higher-paying jobs at manufacturing companies in the industrial areas if trolley hours and routes were adjusted to accommodate plant schedules, many of them 12-hour shifts, the transportation analysts were told.
David Hertzberg, the city's public works director, said there are other reasons residents use the service to get to work. "During snow and ice storms it was necessary because (the service) was running when their cars were not," he said.
Another theme of comments had to do with finding a way to provide faster service.
Trolleys currently run on three routes that each take about an hour to loop. There is no phone app or online service to show where the buses are on the routes and riders can wait up to hour to get on to make a trip or return. That can turn an errand or a trip to the grocery store into a three-hour round trip.
Trolley riders were asked whether they would prefer a hub type of service in which buses travel shorter distances to get from point to point or whether they were willing to make transfers from one route to another.
"It was pretty overwhelming that most of our respondents said, 'Yes, we would much rather go there faster even if we have to transfer'" than use one trolley to get back and forth, Lolley said.
One of the discussion groups involved elderly or disabled riders, many of whom must use wheelchairs. One woman said there are no grocery stores close to her home and that she has to use trolleys for those shopping trips. Cab service is too expensive for those residents to use on a regular basis, they said.
"The drivers go one step beyond to help people by carrying things for them and being courteous," in addition to getting riders in wheelchairs on and off the buses, one woman said. Some would not be able to get that kind of assistance to their door were it not for the kindness of the city's drivers, they said.
Discussion leader Triveece Penelton of Vireo, a Kansas City planning consultant, asked if users preferred a limited amount of service throughout the city that accommodates the highest density of residents or a service focused on those with the most need.
A large number of those who attended said they support providing some service to the most people, although many support finding a way to increase the hours of service. Currently, the trolley runs from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. There is no Sunday service. MAPS provides service by appointment to people in the metro area, which includes Webb City, Duquesne, Carl Junction, Carterville and outlying villages.
Participants also were asked if they believe the public transportation program has political support and community support. Most said they believe so.
Lisa Brown, interim librarian for the Joplin Public Library, said she sees the community support.
"We have a trolley stop at the library, and we have seen constant use," even though the library moved from a downtown location to 1901 E. 20th St., she said.
The service was described as an efficient, affordable and necessary service although it could be made even more efficient and ideally could be expanded to serve a larger number of areas such as neighborhoods and areas in north and south Joplin that are not now close to the trolley routes.
Now that the public input has been obtained, Lolley said, the analysts from Vireo and TranSystems, a transportation engineering company, will compile the information in trends or similar themes. In late April or early May, the discussion groups will be reconvened to look at the results and prioritize which ones they would like to see implemented or placed into a plan.
After that, the consultants will write the plan proposals.
The cost of the study, which will take several more months to finish, is about $150,000.
Among the groups that participated in giving input about the transportation service were:
• Local hospitals and health care providers.
• Residential centers.
• Employment agencies.
• Joplin city staff.
• Representatives of nearby communities.
• Riders, some of them elderly.