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Downtown Growth Could Help Raleigh's Bus System

Posted September 19, 2007

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— About 95 percent of Raleigh residents do not use the city's Capital Area Transit, but downtown growth and other factors could help turn the bus system around.

"The bottom line, though, is only about 5 percent of the people who go to work each morning ride the bus," Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said. "And, as a community, we need to improve that so we have less congestion and less air pollution."

Overall, Meeker said, CAT bus ridership is up about 20 percent within the last two years. Part of that is new service, he said. Another reason is gas prices.

Downtown parking prices are also changing.

"Parking used to be $15 a month," Meeker said. "Now, it's $70 or $80 a month downtown. So, it's making more sense to ride the bus each year."

But because there are a lot of empty seats on CAT buses, the system loses money. More frequent service, which would make bus service more convenient, could help. Downtown growth could help because more people are going to one place and more people are taking the bus.

The city has tried for decades to improve the bus system and increase ridership. Meeker said the city would like to break even, but it will continue to take a loss because the CAT buses are the only option for many city residents.

"Bus fares do not pay for the cost of the service. We recover about 15 or 20 percent of the cost of the service from the fares," Meeker said. "There is some federal help, but mainly, it just comes from the general fund."

19 Comments

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  • Steve Crisp Sep 20, 2007

    Something has been bothering me about this story all day long and I just put my finger on it.

    Raleigh has a population of about 370,000, 20 percent of whom are under the age of 18. That leaves about 300,000 adults. Say 15 percent are unemployed or on welfare and that leaves about 255,000 working adults. Now, if five percent of them ride to work every morning that means about 13,000 ride the CAT system to work every day.

    I don't think I have every seen a full CAT bus. In fact, most of the time they are running empty or close to it.

    So, are my impressions of ridership levels wrong? Did WRAL get the quote wrong where perhaps Meeker meant that five percent of the population ride the bus daily including multiple trips all day long? Or is someone lying about the ridership figures in order to gain political or financial gain?

    What do you think? Do you think that 13,000 different Raleigh workers ride those buses to work EVERY day?

  • Steve Crisp Sep 20, 2007

    The only way light rail is effective is when you have a concentration of workers in one specific location and those workers live a significant distance from the city center. For instance, the Long Island Rail Road works very well because it brings in tons of folks from 30 to 60 miles away from New York and dumps them pretty much where they work. If not directly at their workplace, they can then catch an effective bus system to get the last mile.

    Raleigh is not laid out in that manner. For a light rail to be effective, a place like Johnston County would be where many of the workers downtown actually work. The train would pick them up at eight or ten stops starting in Benson or Smithfield and beyond, then drop them off at Moore Square. Or another spur to Louisburg or Creedmore or Warrenton. Get the picture?

    Raleigh, though, will one day be prime for a subway if growth patterns continue as they are. Now is the time we need to start planning for the next 50 years or more.

  • getrealpeople Sep 20, 2007

    The buses are dirty. The bus station is dirty. Downtown except the "jewell" Fayetteville Street is dirty. Until it is clean they won't ride.

  • JDC Sep 20, 2007

    Thanks for that comment capgroupsc. I'm currently reading Asphalt Nation. The misconceptions about public transport, especially in the south, are astounding. People won't ride the bus because they're unattractive or because it's inconvenient, but when the city wants to move tax dollars from road building to mass transit, they complain. I wonder how these folks who are scared to death of buses will get around when oil reaches $100 a barrel. Oh right, they'll just put on their white hoods and mount their horses.

  • pack-man Sep 20, 2007

    rail is more attractive then a bus, also more expensive, but if ridership increases, cost doesn't matter

  • Navillus Sep 20, 2007

    Light Rail

  • iamforjustice Sep 20, 2007

    We need a light rail. That would really help us out and I work in Butner and I would love to catch the bus to John Umstead.

  • Linger Sep 20, 2007

    Maybe if the bus would run later than midnight til 3:00 am it would promote more ridership by the people who go to bars and clubs downtown. It would also promote less drunk driving by increasing the options to get around town.

  • mjjunk Sep 20, 2007

    I looked into riding the bus from my house to work. A trip that I could make in 20 minutes in my car would take over 2 hours by bus. Until the issue of transit time is fixed, Raleigh will likely never see an increase in ridership. I would suggest you go to http://www.gotriangle.org/ to see how long it takes you to get from your house to your place of work. Unless you start downtown and are going to one of the main streets, you can probably expect at minimum a 1.5 hour trip.

  • capgroupsc Sep 19, 2007

    1. Public Transit does not pay for itself. Even NYC with the most peole riding transit in the country, the operational cost is covered with 80% of the fares collected.
    2. With the sprawling growth of Raleigh, it is hard to cover most areas of the city with bus services. The city's growth needs to be tied in with transportation infrastructure/systems.
    3. There needs to be adequate funding (locally and regional) to continually expand the service and frequency of the system(s) like Charlotte and the sales tax dedicated for transit.
    4. The perception of transit as transportation for the 'carless' is true, but it is the only affordable means of getting around even if it takes a long time to get from point A to B. 'Public' and 'Mass' in transit means for all people and the system should be planned to serve the majority of the public.
    5. Read the book 'Asphalt Nation' to see what really happened to public transit in this country.

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