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City transit progresses under superintendent’s leadership

December 17, 2018
In this Nov. 29, 2018 photo, Brian Horinka, Minot's bus and vehicle maintenance superintendent, stands aboard the newest transit bus in Minot, N.D. Horinka joined the City of Minot in August 2004 as a parts specialist in the maintenance department. (Jill Schramm/Minot Daily News via AP)

MINOT, N.D. (AP) — “It’s been an exciting career for me. I knew nothing about transit in 2010, and to be put in this position and to learn everything I have had to learn, I feel it’s very rewarding, because I feel I am doing something for the community and putting the best transit system we can out on the street for our people and the people who need it. When I see those people out there, getting where they need to go because the city is putting out a transit system, that’s my reward,” he said.

Horinka joined the City of Minot in August 2004 as a parts specialist in the maintenance department, the Minot Daily News reported . A native of Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, he had served 21 years in the Air Force with three assignments to Minot during those years. He and his wife, a native of California, decided Minot was where they wanted to stay so upon his separation from the Air Force, he applied for the city position, where he could use the skills he’d gained in vehicle maintenance.

In 2011, Horinka became vehicle maintenance superintendent for the city. Because the job was linked to the transit service, he also became bus superintendent. His previous transit experience had consisted of serving as a backup driver when needed. He recalls having a lot to learn.

“I looked at other agencies and how transit was done and went out to see what I needed to do to make transit a viability option for everybody,” he said. “My goal is to provide the safest, most comfortable public transit that I can for the entire community.”

At the time he became superintendent, Minot was in the middle of an oil boom and, in June of 2011, experienced a major flood that disrupted transportation in the city.

“There was an awful lot going on. It was busy. I leaned on a lot of other transit directors in the state,” Horinka said. He also depended on the state Department of Transportation’s transit section for advice.

Ultimately, the city commissioned a consultant to do an in-depth study, drawing on public input. The study produced the document that now serves to guide decisions on bus service.

“They did offer some mid- and long-term ideas,” Horinka said. “We have incorporated a good portion up to the mid-point range.”

The transit service’s longer range plan is to develop two new routes, he said. One would serve the new Trinity medical complex in south Minot once the facility opens. The other would extend transit service to Minot’s 36th Avenue North, which would satisfy customer demand for rides to Job Service.

During his eight years as head of the department, the bus service has added two more hours on weekday mornings and two in the evenings to operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The agency increased service hours by 33 percent and saw a 69 percent increase in miles traveled per day, while only increasing its budget by 8 percent, Horinka said.

“It does make a difference, especially the morning hours, because now we are able to get people to work. We were very much under-serving that population. We have seen about a 44 to 46 percent increase in our annual general ridership. That tells me we are getting to that demographic a little bit better than we were before,” he said.

Still, the service remains a lifeline to the 15,000 to 20,000 seniors and disabled passengers who use it, he said.

“We provide a very needed service for the community,” he said. “A lot of people probably wouldn’t be able to stay in their homes if they didn’t have transportation.”

The bus service is on track to provide 90,000 rides this year.

Ridership since route changes in August 2016 have steadily increased. Ridership this past October was up about 1,600 passengers from October 2017. November ridership was up about 500 passengers over the previous year.

The increase comes despite changes that affected students. Under federal rules, city transit cannot become a school bus service so Minot adjusted its program to ensure it remained within those rules.

“But we still manage to provide a number of rides to students during the school year,” Horinka said. Statistics show students make up nearly 50 percent of riders.

Technology has taken over in a big way too. From ticket vending machines to phone apps that track buses and estimated times of arrival, Minot transit has adopted technologies that add convenience. The bus tracking feature was added in January 2016.

“We are always looking at making changes. We are always open to suggestions and ideas on what we can do and what we can do better,” Horinka said. “It’s not a stagnant process. We are constantly looking and taking input and looking for ways to move to where we are going to go next.”

Minot City Transit currently is part of a pilot project using upgraded technology to provide voice messaging on buses. Although able to announce stops, the current system is cumbersome, requiring two to three weeks and considerable expense to update any recordings, Horinka said. The new system being tested would allow upgrades in 24 hours and provides a text-to-speech option for instant updates when there’s information about weather-related or other emergency changes. The new system’s audio and video surveillance capabilities also increases security, and its wi-fi is usable by passengers.

Horinka said the hope is to have the full system on all buses by early next summer.

Like most transit equipment, the system would be largely grant funded. Horinka said government grants pay for 50 percent of the operational needs and 80 percent of the equipment needs of the department. Fares account for 11 percent of revenue. The service hasn’t had a fare increase since he’s been superintendent, Horinka said. The cost remains $1.25 for a ride.

People can buy tickets from the transit office or certain tickets at other locations around the city or use the vending machines at the transit hub in the Municipal Auditorium. Passengers also can pay with cash but buses no longer give change since the switch to the fare collection system in 2015.

When Minot installed Genfare’s fare collection system, the company was impressed with the city’s lack of problems with the equipment. Other agencies were seeing problems and sometimes significant malfunction.

“I believe it was because of our preventive maintenance program,” Horinka said. Genfare thought so too and developed a white paper based on Minot’s procedures that was distributed to other agencies.

Horinka’s also emphasizes prevention in his oversight of city vehicle maintenance.

“We have a very, very good crew that work here in the vehicle maintenance jobs and also in the bus transit maintenance,” he said. “They keep 800 pieces of city equipment running with four mechanics so they are always busy, but they keep the city going. They keep the city on its wheels. My philosophy when it comes to vehicle equipment or anything else is the better the prevention program you have, the less scheduled maintenance and down time you are going to have on the vehicles later on.”

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Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com

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