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City planners: Downtown shuttle not ‘fiscally reasonable’

Every few years, Naperville test drives the idea of implementing a shuttle to help people get to and from its downtown.

But when city planners recently looked at going down that road again, they determined the demand is too low and the cost is too high.

“Shuttle service is something we will keep in mind as we work with special events operators or if one of the decks needed to close for renovations,” said Karyn Robles, transportation and planning team leader. “For now, as just as sort of a supplement to parking in downtown, we don’t see it as fiscally reasonable.”

The city ran several shuttle pilot programs between 2004 and 2006, giving people rides from their neighborhoods into downtown on the weekends and taking Edward Hospital employees to downtown for lunch on weekdays.

“We got good feedback from people using it, we just didn’t have enough people using it to make the cost of the program worthwhile,” Robles said.

The topic came up again last year during the city’s strategic planning discussions, leading to planners’ latest look at the feasibility. Robles said they found the city’s cost per ride would be about $58, up from $45 in 2006 and the city hasn’t been hearing a demand from residents.

The issue, she said, seems to pop up every few years in part because some people have a perception there isn’t enough downtown parking. Including both public and private spots, there currently are about 3,300 downtown parking spaces.

A 2010 study showed on Friday nights – peak parking time – 77 percent of those spots tended to be full on average. The city will be doing a follow-up study this summer and Robles said she anticipates that occupancy percentage increasing into the lower 80s.

Reaching occupancy rates in the 80s tends to make people feel there isn’t enough parking, she said. But she hopes the city’s parking guidance systems that tell drivers how many spaces are really available in some facilities will help ease that perception.

Roughly half of people visiting the downtown are from outside the city, according to staff, and two bus routes will drop them off there if they want to use public transportation. Planners have found that for people living in Naperville driving remains the most popular mode of transportation to reach downtown.

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