Any questions about the demand for public transportation in Kokomo have been answered since the city expanded its routes for the City Line Trolley last July.
The bus service has seen its passenger totals increase 31 percent since it added three new lines and expanded the number of stops from 118 to 275 last summer, the Kokomo Tribune reported.
Since the expansion of the routes and addition of 25 new bus shelters, passenger boardings have increased, as word has spread that the city mass transit system now goes to many new locations, including Kokomo High School, the American Health Network offices on Dixon Road, the trailer and mobile home parks on the north end of town and all of Indian Heights.
After seeing 297,469 passenger boardings in all of 2013, the trolleys have already had 223,000 boardings in 2014 through the month of July, with the new green, yellow and orange lines accounting for 65,557 of those passengers. Prior to expansion, the trolleys had 120,000 passenger boardings in 2012.
City Transportation Director Tammy Corn said the demand for the new lines has been noticeable.
"We were running around 1,000 to 1,100 (passenger boardings) a day," she said. "Now we're up anywhere from 1,600 to around 2,000 a day."
The trolleys, which run from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, have added flexibility for those who use public transportation in the city, Corn said, mitigating some of the use of the Spirit of Kokomo fleet.
That's a good thing, Corn said, because operating the Spirit of Kokomo's door-to-door mode of transit is costly.
"A lot of the people will ride the Spirit and they'll ride it (to the bus stop on Union Street) and then hop on to Walmart or Kmart," she said. "It has added flexibility for them. A lot of it was just teaching the people how to ride the fixed bus system. It's not that foreign object to them."
Public transportation has been a major area of emphasis for Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight, who pushed for bringing back a fixed-route busing system to the city in 2010.
Goodnight said the success of the trolley lines can be attributed to the system's reliability and the connectivity it brings to all areas of the city.
"I give a lot of credit to Tammy (Corn), the employees at the transit center, the drivers and the tech service employees," he said. "I think part of the reason for its success has been that it's both dependable and free for the riders, which makes it a viable option for getting around the city.
"The fact that it's constantly on time and hitting many of the major destinations in our city has certainly made it effective," he added. "Everything we're trying to do is about connecting the city and it's part of a bigger plan, (that includes) adding bike lanes and trails to connect the city in different ways."
Since the expansion, riders have used the City Line to ride to work, appointments, after-school activities and everything in between.
Kokomo Urban Outreach Executive Director Jeff Newton attributes some of the popularity to public education on how to use the system effectively.
Newton, who pushed for the implementation of fixed-route busing in 2010, was instrumental in teaching many of the riders how to properly utilize the lines.
"I think a lot of people struggle in areas that we call 'food deserts,' where if they need to go to the grocery store, they have to either take a cab or walk a couple of miles," he said. "I think we realized that we could actually help hunger in Kokomo by providing public transportation to get people back and forth.
"Getting to work is another thing that has been impacted by the bus routes," he added. "I met a guy from Pine Valley on Center Road that had to walk to school every day at Ivy Tech along the bypass. When the trolley came, that changed his life, cutting his commute down from two hours to 30 minutes."
Corn said the demand for the trolleys has illuminated just how important public transportation is in a city like Kokomo.
"I don't think people realize the importance of public transportation," she said. "If you take the element of public transportation out of a community, you've eliminated people from publicly volunteering, you've eliminated people from getting to and from education, from doctor appointments and after school activities."