The GoDurham bus budget is short on money, and that could end some routes

A Bull City Connector bus passes through Main Street in downtown Durham.
A Bull City Connector bus passes through Main Street in downtown Durham. dvaughan@newsobserver.com

Some Durham bus routes may be dropped or changed as GoDurham faces a budget shortfall. The city’s bus system leaders want to make more buses run on time and serve the most riders, so less used routes may be dropped to help close the budget gap.

While the planned $2.47 billion Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit plan will connect Chapel Hill to Durham, within Durham, the city is looking at how to better serve bus riders.

GoDurham’s five-year plan includes a $875,000 projected shortfall, said Harmon Crutchfield, assistant director of the city’s transportation department.

Transportation Director Terry Bellamy has been named to be the next transportation and public works head in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Before coming to Durham, Bellamy led transportation for Washington, D.C.

City Manager Tom Bonfield said the projected bus budget shortfall is because of a cut in the State Maintenance Assistance Program.

Ending Bull City Connector

The city is planning to drop the Bull City Connector, a fare-free bus route downtown that was started with Duke University funding in 2010 to connect Duke with downtown. But Duke ended funding, and the route no longer stopped at Durham Station downtown after 2015. It costs the city $1.2 million per year. Ridership has dropped for the past three years. So instead of keeping it, GoDurham plans to add a new 15-minute service on Main Street, along other improvements to routes and time.

“In my mind, it was only fare free because of Duke,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson.

City leaders want those in need in Durham to be able to get around. Council members are considering one of GoDurham’s ideas — capping fares so that bus riders only spend a limited amount per month on bus fare. And some riders already get free fare.

Who rides GoDurham buses for free:

Children 12 and younger

Adults age 65 and older

Youth age 13 to 18 if they have a GoPass

Students age 19 to 21 if they have a GoDurham ID

Riders with day passes provided by local nonprofits. GoDurham donates $8,000 in day passes annually to nonprofits such as Urban Ministries of Durham.

How much it costs:

GoDurham fares have been $1 per ride since 2004. GoRaleigh charges $1.25 per ride and GoCary charges $1.50 per ride. Chapel Hill buses are free because of UNC funding. GoDurham also has reduced fares of $0.50 for those with a GoDurham ID card or a rider with a Medicare card.

While dealing with the budget shortfall, Durham City Council members do not want to raise bus fare.

Mayor Steve Schewel said that he’s not in favor of increasing fare, but he does back reallocating Bull City Connector funds to other resources that will make more buses on time, more frequent and more reliable.

Possible GoDurham route changes

GoDurham wants to add 9.3 more miles of very frequent service, at 15-minute or shorter intervals.

End service an hour earlier on weekdays and Saturday.

Eliminate Route 20, which serves Woodcroft, South Square and Duke. It has low ridership.

End Route 7 and Route 8 an hour earlier. Route 7 serves Forest Hills, Weaver Street and MLK Parkway. Route 8 serves Lawson Street, N.C. Central University and Durham Technical Community College.

No midday or evening service along N.C. 54.

What’s next

GoDurham will finalize its transit plan and fare strategy before presenting it again to council members next year.

“Our transportation future is really critical given all the growth. I would be supportive of us investing more in transit,” Johnson said.

Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton said he does not want to raise taxes to do so, though.

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