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In the Sedona RoadRunner’s first six-and-a-half months on the road, 38,553 people have jumped on board, according to data from the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority.

By Trista Steers
Larson Newspapers

In the Sedona RoadRunner’s first six-and-a-half months on the road, 38,553 people have jumped on board, according to data from the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority.

Numbers around the sixth-month mark represent 48 percent of NAIPTA’s annual goal of 80,000 riders.

“I think that we’re going to hit the number. We have some very busy months ahead of us,” Jim Wagner, NAIPTA Sedona program manager, said.

Wagner and NAIPTA General Manager Jeff Meilbeck met with Sedona City Council on May 23 to talk about the transit systems’ past and future in Sedona.

In the past, some council members became concerned with communication between NAIPTA — who operates the Sedona RoadRunner — and the city.

Concern about low ridership also raised funding questions during this year’s budget meetings.

Council first took $250,000 of funding out of the budget for Fiscal Year 2007-08 before reconsidering the cut May 22.

The money was intended to help fund construction of a storage facility in Cottonwood. but council didn’t want to commit to the project.

City Manager Eric Levitt told council if it didn’t contribute the money, the program risked losing federal funding.

Council agreed to reallocate the funds but will have to approve any future use.

Levitt assured council at a work session that the two entities had begun working through their problems.

“It’s been an interesting year,” Levitt said. “I think the first year is always tough.”

The last month, according to Levitt, communication began to run smoothly between NAIPTA and the city.

“There is a learning curve for all of us,” Levitt said.

Part of adjusting to that learning curve is tweaking the system along the way.

According to Meilbeck,

NAIPTA planned to run the program as originally approved by council — two trolleys servicing Uptown and Gallery Row — for the first two years. With that in mind, Meilbeck added that some things need to change.

“We hit market with a few stumbles,” Meilbeck said.

Advertising needs to improve, Meilbeck said. Signs, promotion and the trolleys themselves need to reach out to potential riders.

“The signs weren’t big enough,” Meilbeck said.

NAIPTA designed a new sign with an actual map of the route. The city plans to install electronic signs in Uptown this summer to tell riders exactly when the next trolley arrives, as well.

Councilman Ramon Gomez suggested encouraging Uptown and Hillside merchants to spread the word. Word of mouth is the best marketing tool, Gomez said.

As a shop owner in Uptown and Tlaquepaque, Council-woman Nancy Scagnelli said she tells her employees to remind shoppers of the RoadRunner.

As for the actual trolley, Scagnelli said the word “free” needs to be a lot bigger.

“I think it’s [RoadRunner] its own best advertising,” Scagnelli said.

Vice Mayor Jerry Frey said he wants the Sedona Chamber of Commerce to step up and help out with advertising.

“I think we need to tie in with the chamber a little more,” Frey said. “We’ve got to get them to help out.”

The chamber mostly markets to tourists, which Councilman Rob Adams said is a problem he has with the RoadRunner— it focuses almost solely on tourists and not residents.

Wagner said the Arizona Department of Transportation has the same problem with the service. ADOT wants to see the program expand to connect the Verde Valley, according to Wagner, to better serve residents.

A summer pilot program, RoadRunner Summer Fun Run, may address this issue by servicing West Sedona, according to Levitt.

Adams said it would be easier for him to support the RoadRunner if he could see numbers demonstrating the community and economic benefit it provides.

Meilbeck said he understood Adams’ concern, and NAIPTA plans to conduct a survey of riders to monitor demographics, areas visited and money spent.

“I can certainly understand your questions and curiosity,” Meilbeck said.

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