Smithfield Herald

January 3, 2014

Bus route sees few riders in first two weeks of service

So far, only a handful of people are riding the new express bus route between Johnston County and downtown Raleigh. But officials expect ridership to pick up as they begin advertising the service and traffic gets worse during the Raleigh beltline reconstruction.

So far, only a handful of people are riding the new express bus between Johnston County and downtown Raleigh.

Triangle Transit launched the route Dec. 16 to help commuters escape traffic jams during the rebuilding of Interstate 40 in Raleigh.

The JCX route starts near the garden center at Walmart in the Cleveland community. The bus then travels nonstop to downtown Raleigh, dropping off riders at Moore Square Station and at the corner of Edenton and Wilmington streets. The bus runs weekdays in the morning and afternoon.

From Dec. 16 to Dec. 30, only 126 people rode the bus. Dec. 18 had the most riders, with 25; Dec. 23 had the fewest, with only three.

But the low ridership was according to plan, said Brad Schulz, communications officer for Triangle Transit.

“This period between the 16th of December and January is a chance for us to time the route a little bit better, to see where there may be some additional corrections in the route we need to make,” Schulz said.

This “soft start” gives Triangle Transit time to perfect the route and make it reliable before the bulk of people begin riding, Schulz said.

Triangle Transit will begin advertising the bus in local newspapers and radio and TV stations in January, Schulz said. Plus, the worst of the beltline traffic hasn’t started yet.

“We believe that once folks begin to feel the full impact, they begin to see the concrete barriers, and as they recognize more and more that traffic will be a greater problem beginning next week and through the year, they will begin to take some time to look at the alternatives,” he said.

Money for the new JCX route comes from the N.C. Department of Transportation. The bus will run through 2016, when the DOT wraps up the rebuilding project.

Three buses go along the route, which runs from 6 to 8:30 a.m. and 3:45 to 6:10 p.m. Monday through Friday. The one-way trip takes about 30 minutes. The bus, which can seat 36 people, has wifi, and it can travel along the shoulder of I-40 if traffic stalls.

For now, the bus ride is free, but Triangle Transit will start charging the normal express-bus rate of $2.50 per trip starting Feb. 3. “It allows riders to test drive the service, to kind of compare it with their work schedule and see if the Johnston County Express can be part of their commute,” Schulz said.

Dale Utley, 53, lives in the Cleveland community and works downtown for the City of Raleigh.

The bus stops about four blocks from his building. “It’s convenient for this area right here,” Utley said from the parking lot at Walmart. “If you work downtown, there’s no reason not to. Wear and tear on the car, gas, plus being stuck in traffic for an hour. Sometimes it took me an hour to get to work without (the I-40 rebuilding project) going on, if there was a wreck or something.”

Utley said he first tried the route because of the stories he had heard about how bad the traffic was going to be. So far, while riding, the bus has used the shoulder twice. Utley said he thinks traffic congestion will become worse when construction crews begin working on I-40 closer to downtown.

Utley said he enjoys reading and working while on the bus, and he has met people he likes talking to each day. But so far, he said, ridership has been low.

“The most I’ve seen on there any one time with me has been about seven or eight,” he said. “People hate to give up their cars.”

Utley said he would likely continue riding if Triangle Transit continued the route after the rebuilding project finishes in three years.

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