As ridership continues its steady climb, Capital Area Transit plans to add more buses on popular routes, reduce or eliminate little-used routes and expand weekend and holiday service.
Some of the immediate tweaks are possible in the current CAT budget. But delivering wholesale upgrades, local officials say, depends on passage of a half-cent sales tax for transit. Wake County commissioners are weighing whether to hold a referendum, possibly as early as November.
“We’re crippled without the half-cent sales tax,” said City Councilman Bonner Gaylord.
“Until that passes, we’ll be limping along with whatever efforts we’re able to make… It’s taking things and shuffling them around.”
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CAT officials say their short-term plan lays out a guide for the next three to five years, aimed largely at reacting to areas and times of greatest demand.
“We’re trying to take our existing resources and apply them where they can be most productive,” said David Eatman, the city’s transit administrator.
This year, ridership on CAT buses is expected to reach 6.45 million, up from 5.83 million in 2011, and more than double the amount from 2003, according to agency figures.
An open house last week at the Wilmoore Cafe on Wilmington Street gave transit riders an early glimpse of changes to the bus system. Visitors gazed at big posters filled with maps and charts. Many nibbled on free cookies and crackers provided by the cafe, which sits next to the Moore Square Transit Center.
Orneze Moore took a long look at plans for the No. 6 bus. The route takes Moore from his Crabtree-area home to downtown, where he boards another bus toward his office on Capital Boulevard.
Sometimes, Moore, 47, has to work on Sundays and must make a longer walk to a weekend route farther from his home.
“If you know anything about Glenwood, there are two big hills,” he said. “I’m kind of used to it, but there are those days when you’re kind of tired.”
For Moore, the changes added up to a mixed result. CAT does plan to introduce Sunday service on the No. 6 bus, but not until 2014.
A half-cent sales tax would go toward what Wake County Manager David Cooke refers to as a “core” transit package with bolstered bus service and new rush-hour commuter trains.
The plan calls for bus service to be nearly doubled in the first five years, and for commuter trains to start rolling within eight years.
Additions, some cuts
Short-term fixes are no longer sufficient, said Karen Rindge, executive director of WakeUP Wake County, an advocacy group pushing for more transit options.
“The reality is, our bus system simply doesn’t have enough resources,” Rindge said.
As part of the adjustments, CAT would cancel low-performing routes such as Saturday service on the 16 Oberlin past Crabtree Valley Mall. The 13 Chavis Heights route would be replaced by a rerouted 22 State Street line.
“It’s very difficult,” Eatman said, “for us to sit back and look at some of our services in the late evening hours that aren’t all that productive when we have afternoon services that are very productive.”
Eatman said he expects to hear complaints as people become aware of route changes, particularly cuts in service. He called it a tradeoff intended to serve riders in high-demand areas.
“The positives for those it will assist far outweigh those it will impact negatively,” he said.