When students return to Ivy Tech and IPFW this fall, something new will greet them: free bus service connecting the two north-side campuses to nearby dorms, apartments, restaurants and shops.
A $1.2 million federal grant will pay 80 percent of the cost of “Campuslink” for three years, with the two schools splitting the remaining expense. A previously announced $4 million grant from the recently passed federal stimulus package will allow Citilink, Fort Wayne's public transportation service, to buy three 26-passenger buses for use by the new program. About $450,000 is available to buy the buses, which will also require Citilink to recall some of its 10 laid-off employees.
“This is exciting stuff. The service will be free and frequent,” said Citilink General Manager Ken Housden, noting that buses near campus will run every five minutes or so and slightly less frequently on the route's outskirts. “This will be good for faculty and students, and it will also ease traffic congestion and campus parking and will improve air quality. Our job is to transport people, and the more people we carry, the better job we do.”
With about 12,000 students at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne and another 8,500 at Ivy Tech, there will be plenty of opportunity for Citilink's annual ridership of 2.2 million to grow considerably - something that could also help the system attract additional funds in the future.
Although the program is intended primarily as a means to move students between housing and the two campuses, the shuttles will be free to all riders, Housden said. They will link to Citilink's routes, for which fares must be paid.
But even that will be less expensive for students, faculty and staff. They will qualify for an 80 percent discount that will reduce the cost of a monthly pass from $45 to $9.
Campuslink service is expected to begin Aug. 24, with the free shuttles running 7:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m.
Student housing near IPFW has expended dramatically in recent years:
• This year work began on a 448-bed, $21.2 million campus dorm.
• Also this year, North Carolina-based Campus Crest Communities announced plans for a privately funded 192-unit, $18 million apartment complex on St. Joe Road.
• Last year, a Texas developer announced plans for a 144-unit, $15 million apartment project south of campus.
Betsy Kachmer, Citilink's assistant general manager, said the bus system requested federal funds to restore some services recently cut because of budget shortfalls, but funds were available for new programs only. Even so, she and Housden said, Citilink will continue to seek ways to improve service throughout Fort Wayne.
Although the federal grant will expire after three years, Housden said he's not worried about Campuslink's long-term future.
“Three years is a long time in this business, and I'm confident that when the grant runs out people will have seen the program's value and funding will be available,” he said. “And Daddy always said, ‘Take the money.' ”