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Brainerd City Council: City to pursue public transit app

Council member Gabe Johnson (left), along with City Administrator Cassandra Torstenson, Council President Dave Pritschet, Mayor Ed Menk and council member Kelly Bevans, listen as City Engineer Paul Sandy pitches RouteMatch -- a mobile app that could potentially streamline the city's public transit system. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

The city of Brainerd is making a push to bring its public transit system into the 21st century after the Brainerd City Council voted unanimously to pursue the steps necessary to implement an app called RouteMatch.

Routematch, billed as a mobile web application and web portal, enables bus riders to schedule pick-ups and track their buses on a geopositioning map, as well as receive an estimated time to arrival.

By using RouteMatch, the city would present a more user-friendly, efficient system that may pay for its own upkeep and maintenance, City Engineer Paul Sandy said. Between interruptions in the transit routes and loss of revenue from absent customers, or "no-shows," the city is losing money. In 2017 alone, the transit system had 616 no-shows. With a three-minute wait time at each stop, Sandy said, about $1,900 was lost.

That's only one area of cost-efficiency from which the city could gain, Sandy added. Transit offices answer approximately 300 calls a day through one dispatcher, but phone records indicate upwards of 400 are being missed.

"The users of our transit would be able to essentially schedule their rides, see where their bus is. It provides connectivity between the user and the bus," Sandy said. "Inevitably, we would hope it would eliminate the need for a second dispatcher."

Council member Sue Hilgart questioned if there could be information gleaned from prior studies or the performance of the app in other cities to produce a "forecast," or set predictive metrics for the performance of the app. Sandy said he could request more concrete figures for the app and provide them to the council.

With its vote, the council authorized an application of a grant through the National Joint Powers Alliance that would enable the capital software purchase, as well as development and implementation of the system. To cover this, the grant would be $82,000.

In his request, Sandy noted there were two forms of payment the city could undertake—one, a pay as you go method, or the other, a "capital" method, which stipulates a larger one-time payment for installation, as well as three years of maintenance fees. Sandy advised the council to take the capital method option—though, he noted, both payment plans are about equal after four years.

In the request documents, it's noted the Minnesota Department of Transportation would support 85 percent of costs, while the remaining 15 percent would be accounted for by existing partnerships with the cities of Baxter and Pine River, as well as Crow Wing County.

Ultimately, the council voted to adopt the resolution supporting the city of Brainerd's role as fiscal agent in the project. In addition, the council authorized the proper signatures on the grant application upon completion.