Raleigh has a lot going for it in the livability department, but could it do even better by upgrading its municipal bus service? You betcha.
Capital Area Transit, despite an extensive network of routes, continues to wrestle with getting the right mix of service to the right places. Some routes are overcrowded. Others are lightly used perhaps because not enough people can count on them to get them where they want to go, when they want to go there. In some areas of the city, catching a bus is hardly a practical option, even for residents who would like to use buses to get around.
CAT customers also too often must deal with conditions at stops that can only be described as primitive, without shelters or benches. Waiting for the bus as a summer thunderstorm approaches can be a test of more than just patience.
With those issues in mind, no wonder city officials would like to see Wake County move ahead with plans to raise additional money for transit through a small sales tax increase.
But county commissioners, with an eye on anti-tax sentiment among some voters, are reluctant to submit the proposed half-cent increase to a referendum. That puts the brakes on various bus and rail improvements that would make for better service in Wake and, via connections, throughout the Triangle.
The Raleigh City Council may be disappointed in the commissioners. Yet when it comes to transit council members are not standing still. A recent retreat featured an extensive look at steps the city can take on its own, focusing on the CAT system.
For example, in light of crowding on the route along New Bern Avenue between downtown and WakeMed, the council is looking at ways to boost capacity. Those could include streetcars and special bus lanes. In the shorter run, more buses could be deployed.
The downside, however, is that the New Bern corridors gain might be some other areas loss. Underutilized routes could see their service trimmed even though spotty service is typically a main cause of low ridership. A better bet would be to try to meet the demand on busy routes without cannibalizing others.
Council members understand that over time, better public transit influences land use as development clusters near stops and stations. That makes for more efficient, less environmentally burdensome urban growth growth that can help offset the cost of transit projects.
Meanwhile, Raleigh residents who would rather be less car-dependent deserve a healthy range of options, with reliable and convenient bus service atop the list. Raleigh should be able to continue upgrading the CAT system on its own and if it genuinely wants to be a best place to live for all of its residents, thats exactly what it will do.