Many UNC students who hop on the Robertson bus next semester expecting a free ride to Duke will have to pay up instead.
The service, which runs between Duke University and UNC, will begin charging a $2.50 fare on Jan. 7. The fee will not apply to Robertson Scholars or people with passes administered by either university.
The change, which also includes moving the bus operation from Duke Transit to Triangle Transit, comes after a recent survey by Duke Transit. The survey revealed many of the riders were not Robertson Scholars — or even students.
John Tallmadge, director of regional services development for Triangle Transit, said he estimated only about 4 percent of the riders were Robertson Scholars.
The survey also found that approximately 3,000 boardings took place in one of the two weeks surveyed.
“We found that a good portion of the riders are essentially unaffiliated with either university,” said Allen Chan, interim executive director for the Robertson Scholars Program.
“We’re trying to recoup a little bit of the cost from those unaffiliated riders,” he said.
While anyone can ride the bus, it was created for Robertson Scholars to travel back and forth between the universities. Scholars are enrolled and take classes at both schools.
Seven years ago, Duke Transit became responsible for running the bus, but the scholars program continues to pay for the service.
The Robertson Scholar Program and Triangle Transit have discussed turning the operation of the bus over to the Triangle Transit for years, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that a formal proposal was made.
Tallmadge said Triangle Transit chose to acquire the route because it connects the communities.
Sophomore James Collier, a Robertson Scholar, said he doesn’t notice a large number of other scholars using the service when he rides the bus.
The money collected from the fare and the bus passes purchased by the universities will cover about a quarter of the bus service cost.
The remainder of the cost will continue to be covered by the scholars program.
“I suppose they wanted to save some money on it, so it’s hard to fault them for that,” Collier said.
But he added that he thought the new fare will hurt some people who use the service to commute to work.
The bus schedule and route will not be affected by the change.
“We’re committed to maintaining this transport system to be able to allow the universities to connect,” Chan said.
There will be a small grace period of about two weeks so riders are not surprised by the fare.
“It should be a pretty seamless transition for riders,” Chan said.
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