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South Dakota City Focuses on Innovation With New Transit Provider

Sioux Falls has selected a transit provider to operate its transportation service. The move promises to bring new innovations and efficiencies for transit users in South Dakota’s largest city.

An aerial view of downtown Sioux Falls, S.D., at sunset
Public transit in South Dakota’s largest city will soon transition to a new service provider, clearing the way for new features powered by innovative technology and other improvements, like on-demand transit.

Sioux Falls, S.D., will begin the new year by partnering with Via as its transit provider with normal service continuing “as is” while the company gets oriented, said city officials. Sioux Area Metro (SAM) has been partnering with First Transit/Transdev.

Via will operate SAM “end to end," said Via's Co-Chief Operating Officer Alex Lavoie, which includes employment of all city operational staff, like drivers and maintenance personnel.

“Via is excited to embark on a tech-forward and rider-centric transportation approach for Sioux Falls that is rooted in accessibility, efficiency and data,” said Lavoie, in an email. “This will allow Sioux Falls to measure the cost per ride and the accessibility of every route available, which will help inform future plans for the transit system.”

All current SAM employees will be offered new employment with Via. By focusing on efficiency, Via hopes to introduce new transit options for Sioux Falls, a city of 193,000 residents.

“As part of our agreement with Via, they will do an in-depth look at our current Transit Development Plan,” explained Jeff Eckhoff, director of planning and development services in Sioux Falls. “It is anticipated that a hybrid system of fixed routes, paratransit and microtransit will provide more opportunities for our residents to utilize our transit system. Based on conversations with Via, we envision technology upgrades to be part of this.”

Via has been instrumental in reimagining transit as an on-demand service where riders access the service via an app or call center, and are picked up using small, shared transit vehicles. The model has proven effective in areas with lackluster fixed-route service like suburbs or small cities. The small historic city of Winchester, Va., recently replaced its fixed-route service with Via’s on-demand microtransit system.

Via’s new operation in Winchester is expected to grow ridership from 155,000 per year to 222,000 riders, said Dan Hoffman, city manager for Winchester, speaking on a panel at the recent Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo. Winchester’s cost for the service will increase slightly, but the per-passenger cost goes down from $11.29 to $10.86 per person.

Via’s commitment to technology and innovation is part of what made the company stand out in the selection process, said Eckhoff.

“Via takes a rider-first approach that is driven by data,” said Eckhoff. “Their experience in multiple modes and technology will help our community reimagine public transit, ensuring the needs of today’s riders will be met while innovating for the future.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.