Triangle Transit bus service started in Fuquay-Varina last month. Town leaders were so excited, they woke up early to take the first ride to Raleigh, leaving from the community center at 6:05 a.m.
Nevermind that none of them work in Raleigh. They just wanted to be part of that small slice of the town’s history – and be part of a service they hope continues for decades, instead of just fading back into history.
The area is undergoing a large scale re-write of its transit options through the Wake County Transit Strategy, a partnership of area municipalities and transit organizations.
Towns such as Fuquay-Varina, with limited service, and Morrisville, with no bus service, stand to be the biggest winners.
Since both towns will be new to transit if it does come, local leaders have a chance to make decisions on strategies such as the number and locations of bus stops.
Recently, a 78-member public transportation committee comprised of representatives from every town and major transit destination in Wake County divided into nine groups to think up future bus and rail routes.
Every group included bus service between Fuquay-Varina and Raleigh, said commissioner Ed Ridpath, one of Fuquay-Varina’s transit representatives. About half the groups included bus service to Holly Springs and Apex.
Ridpath spoke about the town’s public transportation future at the board’s annual retreat last weekend in Pinehurst.
“I think this is a good way for Fuquay-Varina to maintain our small-town atmosphere, but have access to the amenities of bigger cities like Raleigh,” he said.
Ridpath also said Fuquay-Varina is small enough that its buses likely will never be packed. That means a comfortable ride, he said, but a budget shortfall that would require town or county subsidies.
Other board members said they would consider spending town money to keep the buses running.
“I would be open to helping the citizens of Fuquay-Varina afford it,” Mayor Pro Tem Charlie Adcock said.
Riders can buy daily, weekly or monthly passes. Rides are also free for state government workers. For everyone else, a monthly pass is $102, which can be out of reach for some, and a great deal for others.
Mayor John Byrne said on that first pre-dawn bus ride, he met a woman who worked at N.C. State University and was paying $400 a month for parking before the bus allowed her to drop that expense.
Mark Matthews, the assistant town manager who also sits on the transit advisory committee with Ridpath, said one thing the buses won’t do is noticeably ease congestion.
But they would allow the town to continue growing without congestion getting worse, especially if the growth comes in high-density developments along major thoroughfares, Matthews said.
Ridpath said that’s a good argument for another of the town’s short-term goals – revamping its development rules and possibly rezoning some parts of town to allow for denser housing development.
“These are arteries in town where we are going to have transit eventually,” he said of roads such as N.C. 55, N.C. 42 and U.S. 401. “So putting in high-density probably makes sense.”
Morrisville bus service
While Fuquay-Varina is considered a good transit destination because many residents commute away for work, Morrisville, a 30-minute drive to the north, is the opposite.
“Morrisville has a fairly high employment density compared to population density,” said Benjamin Howell, the town’s transportation director.
In both Morrisville and Fuquay-Varina local leaders will have a key choice to make between ridership and coverage.
Focusing on ridership means stopping only at high-density work and housing areas. Focusing on coverage means more stops that serve a wider area, but not as efficiently.
“We have to determine where on the spectrum we want to be,” Howell told the Morrisville Town Council last week.
The town will hold a public hearing on that choice at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 23, at Town Hall. Howell urged residents to read about the plans online and take a survey before the hearing.
The survey and other information can be found at ourtransitfuture.com.
Howell said the results will help county leaders decide whether to ask for a half-cent sales tax increase to fund these public transit expansions.
“There will be some sort of service in Morrisville,” Mayor Pro Tem Liz Johnson said. “So it’s our opportunity now to say do we want bus, light rail, commuter rail? And the best way to do that is read the report.”