A bus that ferries riders directly from Fuquay-Varina to Raleigh and back during the weekday rush hour has doubled in popularity since it began in January, and officials expect ridership to grow as construction on the Beltline gives many commuters even longer commutes.
But as Fuquay-Varina officials celebrate the new riders, they also are beginning to discuss what the town could do to provide bus service in the future – either new routes or to continue the express bus after its state funding ends next August.
The extra work on the Beltline project, called Fortify, will begin next week. There will only be three lanes of traffic open, compared to the normal eight to 10 lanes.
The work is expected to add 30 minutes to any given commute, which includes the Interstate 40 Beltline between exits 293 and 301. The state, anticipating this work, set aside $12 million in January to create new bus routes from the suburbs to downtown Raleigh.
The Fuquay-Varina express bus route is the most popular of the routes that began in January, officials say. And it’s expected to become even more popular as people experience the traffic jams starting soon.
“Momentum has built as the rides have gone on and people became more aware of it,” said Mark Matthews, Fuquay-Varina’s assistant town manager and transit expert.
The Fuquay-Varina ridership has steadily grown from 24 to 50 daily riders on average, Matthews said.
Yet the town will have to decide in less than a year whether to fund the bus with local money or let the service end. The state funding expires in August 2016, and officials have frequently said they don’t expect it to be renewed.
Even if the Fortify project – known informally on social media as #BeltlineJam – finishes on time, the lane closures will last until the end of 2016.
The Wake Transit website has testimonials from several riders, including Kathy Cox of Fuquay-Varina. She said the buses sometimes run on an unreliable schedule, but she still prefers it to driving.
“Riding the bus gives me almost two hours of personal time,” Cox wrote. “I read a book, write letters and even pay bills during the ride. I enjoy starting and ending my work day without the stress of driving in rush hour traffic.”
Last month, town commissioner Bill Harris asked about expanding bus service in Fuquay-Varina. He said the single existing route isn’t serving needier residents.
The buses make three stops: Fuquay-Varina Community Center, Food Lion at Hilltop-Needmore Road and then Moore Square in downtown Raleigh.
“It’s not your regular bus ride, exactly,” Mayor John Byrne said.
Harris said the town should have a route with stops downtown and at popular local destinations for shopping or work. He said that would serve residents who need help just getting around town.
“The people I’m talking about, they don’t have access to an automobile,” Harris said.
Matthews said at the meeting that Harris makes good points. But the current state funding has no room for flexibility.
The town tried to get the express bus to stop at Wake Technical Community College, which already is on the route, but the request was denied.
An in-town route only only be feasible if the town wanted to pay for one itself, Matthews said.
But he said that’s a discussion residents and officials should wait to have until a Wake Transit plan has been developed to guide the area’s public transportation.
There are four possible plans. Two are focused on increased ridership and would mostly serve Raleigh. Two are focused on coverage and would extend more into suburbs like Fuquay-Varina. People can learn more, and take a survey, at www.waketransit.com/feedback.
This month is the last chance to do so, before the county’s final report in October.
When Wake County voters go to the polls in November 2016, they likely will have the option to vote for a half-cent sales tax increase that would fund whichever project officials choose this October.
Former Fuquay-Varina commissioner Ed Ridpath was the town’s liasion to the county-level transit meetings. He resigned unexpectedly from the board last week.
Before he resigned, he said at a meeting that Fuquay-Varina will get public transit in any of the Wake Transit plans, but not enough for full service.
“Whatever comes out of Wake County, I don’t think will be completely adequate for Fuquay-Varina,” Ridpath told commissioners in August. “We might have to come up with some extra (locally funded) stops or routes.”
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran
Ride the bus
▪ The Fuquay-Varina express bus departs every 30 minutes from the Fuquay-Varina Community Center from 6:05-9:25 a.m., and every 30 minutes from downtown Raleigh from 3:25-6:45 p.m.
▪ The bus has three stops: the community center, Food Lion on Hilltop-Needmore Road in Fuquay-Varina and Moore Square in downtown Raleigh.
▪ Trips take 40 to 50 minutes. Rides are free for state employees and $3 for everyone else.