In August, the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority (NAIPTA) will debut a new bus route in its Mountain Line bus service. The route will connect Northern Arizona University (NAU) with downtown Flagstaff, providing a more direct link to shopping and residential areas.
Mountain Line's new route, named Mountain Links, is part of a public transit improvements package approved by city voters in May, 2008. The express bus line will have a ten-minute frequency peak and run on a dedicated transit way. Part of the route will run on surface streets. NAIPTA purchased four new Gillig low floor, hybrid-electric buses to use on the route. NAU students presenting student identification will be able to ride the route for free. Ridership for the new route is projected at nearly 300,000 per year.
Mountain Links will connect the 17,000-student population with the densest part of the Flagstaff community, its downtown area, located south of the campus, said Jeff Meilbeck, GM, NAIPTA. The route was planned to help eliminate the hassles and costs of parking and provide a convenient, high quality alternative to get students and faculty from work to restaurants to the movie theatre and back to campus, he added.
"Right now, the university is a transit island: there's university transit service and there's city transit service, but the two don't connect. Mountain Links makes that connection," Meilbeck explained.
Funding for the project has been an obstacle; a drop in a sales tax passed to fund the route and other Mountain Line projects is expected to yield approximately one-third less revenue over a five-year period, bringing projections down from $30 million to $20 million. If the economy hadn't declined so severely over the past two years, NAIPTA probably would have launched the new route one year ago, Meilbeck said. "We were...trying to regroup and reduce costs and then find new revenue sources," he explained.
The route is primarily supported by a $6.2 million federal grant. Nearly $300,000 per year will come from a sales tax dedicated to the Mountain Links route. The capital costs for the new route come to $8.2 million. Operating costs are expected to come to $950,000 a year.