Amid decline in Mitchell taxi services, transportation study exploring fixed route bus system
“Based on the responses, we had quite a few people who wanted to see – or at least look at the feasibility – of some sort of fixed route service,” project leader Jonathon Wiegand said.
MITCHELL — As Mitchell’s taxi industry has dwindled over the past few years, an ongoing study is analyzing ways to improve public transportation.
Jonathon Wiegand, a project leader of the multifaceted transportation study, pointed to a fixed route bus system as a potential avenue for the city to explore, which entails a set schedule of bus stops at certain areas in the city throughout the day.
The recommendation of exploring a fixed route bus system is one result of the mass transportation plan that Wiegand and South Dakota Department of Transportation officials have developed for city leaders.
“Based on the responses, we had quite a few people who wanted to see — or at least look at the feasibility — of some sort of fixed route service,” Wiegand said of the comments from residents who participated in the surveys.
With the steady decline of local taxi services, which lessened to one on Monday after the city council revoked the license of Speedy Taxi owner Dustin Feistner for a recent drug arrest, it left Mitchell with one Lyft driver and the city’s public transportation service. To make up for the loss of taxi services, Palace Transit – the city’s public transportation company – has been offering same-day rides since July 2022.
To get a glimpse of the influx in rides Palace Transit has handled since the closure of a handful of local taxi companies, in 2021, the city's transportation service handled 73,142 riders as of September, marking a roughly 15,000 increase in ridership compared to the entire calendar year in 2021.
Amid the growing demand in bus ridership, Jessica Pickett, community services director who oversees Palace Transit, previously indicated she supports exploring a fixed route system.
“It would be nice to see what the community thinks about adding a fixed route like you see in large metro cities and whether there is a need for it,” Pickett said before the study kicked off in 2022.
The council also approved adding two part-time driver positions to the Palace Transit team this fall.
As of now, Palace Transit operates on an appointment-based system, meaning people who are seeking a ride to and from a destination must arrange the bus ride in advance. A fixed route could eliminate that step.
He also highlighted an expansion of Palace Transit could provide more revenue streams for the city.
“Also, it’s looking at expanding services like on weekends, evenings and Sundays,” Wiegand said. “We’re also looking at different technologies and how that could benefit customer response with Palace Transit.”
Based on the survey responses during the study, Wiegand pitched a recommendation for the city to pursue a transit development plan that would entail a separate study.
“You could look at a fixed route feasibility and test it,” Wiegand said.