From early 2022, public transport will be more widely available in Norfolk and surrounding communities.
To meet the growing demand for public transportation in northeast Nebraska, the renamed North Fork Area Transit announced new services Wednesday that will provide “safe, efficient and affordable” public transportation.
A new flexroute bus service called “Forklift” will offer trips on three routes and the addition of nearly 100 community bus stops, said Steve Rames, director of public works for Norfolk.
The forklift, which will operate seven days a week, will also allow anyone living within 3/4 of a mile of any marked bus stop to schedule curbside service.
Flexroutes will operate from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. The system will likely run on 30-minute cycles during peak hours and one-hour cycles during off-peak hours, Rames said.
North Fork Area Transit’s existing on-call ride service will continue, but under a new name called “Telelift.”
With Telelift, passengers can schedule a ride 24 hours in advance. The service is available up to 30 miles around Norfolk, seven days a week, Rames said.
Later in 2022, a service called “Expresslift” will take flight as part of a second phase of expansion. It will include on-demand rides similar to Uber, according to Anna Meis, marketing consultant for North Fork Area Transit.
The second phase of the plan will also include expanding Telelift to include regional transportation beyond its current 30-mile limit, Meis said.
The forklift’s flexroute will cost passengers $1 one way and $1.50 with a reroute. The ski lift option will cost passengers $2 each way. Various monthly pass options will also be available.
Funding for the North Fork Area Transit expansion is provided by state and federal grants and is matched by the City of Norfolk.
At a Norfolk City Council meeting on Tuesday, the city council approved North Fork Area Transit’s request for financial assistance in the amount of $309,533 to help launch the new services.
About $200,000 of this capital will be used for infrastructure facilities, such as the nearly 100 bus stops in the city. The remainder of the city’s commitment, approximately $109,000, will fund one-third of the service’s first year operating costs.
Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning said public traffic in the area has increased by around 255% over the past two years.
“We often think of public transit in urban settings, but it’s just as — or more important — in rural communities,” the mayor said. “And we see this with the reforms that have been made in recent years.”
Moenning said increased access is needed for area residents to get to work, school and doctors.
The mayor said partners came to the city about three years ago and said Norfolk needed to make its public transit system more accessible, available and usable for people across the community.
Those improvement needs are being addressed, Moenning said.
“The City of Norfolk is an active and willing partner in all of this. In fact, we’re willing to put our money where our mouth is because we recognize the value of public transit,” he said.
Rames detailed the evolution of public transport in Norfolk. Public transport started in the area 40 or 50 years ago, he said, with a blue bus. Then a “Handi Bus” system was used until the mid-1990s when it expanded to become Norfolk Public Transportation.
The city’s public transport board began strategic planning about three years ago, he said. A year later, the board worked with the Nebraska Department of Transportation’s mobility management team to develop a flexroute system.
Last year, the council hired Creative Revolutions’ marketing team to help the city envision how to achieve its end goal in transit development.
“We are here to celebrate the next chapter as North Fork Area Transit,” Rames said. “We look forward to providing this service to the community.
Madison County Commissioner Troy Uhlir also spoke at Wednesday’s announcement ceremony. He said transportation plays a critical role in livability and quality of life for people in northeast Nebraska.
“Providing transportation options for our residents provides access to food, health care, educational opportunities, community engagement and jobs,” Uhlir said.