The Chapel Hill Transit system provides over seven million rides annually and is the second largest transit system in North Carolina. Funding from the Town of Chapel Hill, the Town of Carrboro and the University of North Carolina, allows the Chapel Hill Transit system to be free for all riders.
While the system is able to boast many practical benefits from increased ridership, two former UNC students found a more personal benefit of using Chapel Hill Transit.
In January of 2006, two Tar Heels boarded the NS bus to go home to their apartments in Chapel Ridge.
“Your pickup line was, ‘So, you live in Chapel Ridge?’” joked UNC graduate Ashley Donovan, a data systems team lead at Clever Devices and wife to David Donovan.
That meeting on the CHT bus led to David and Ashley being married in 2009.
“We wanted to take engagement photos in Chapel Hill,” Ashley Donovan said. “I wanted to make sure we got some pictures on the bus.”
The Donovan’s attributed the story of when they first met to the distinctive and inclusive nature of the Chapel Hill Transit system.
“You have every walk of life riding the bus," Ashley Donovan said. "When we tell our story to people sometimes who don’t know about fare-free agencies, they kind of give us this look. Sometimes there could be a stigma that only certain people will ride (the) bus in some cities. But in Chapel Hill, everyone rides the bus.”
Former Mayor of Chapel Hill Mark Kleinschmidt spearheaded the fare-free bus system during his time on City Council.
“The impact it has on the lives of people who live, work and go to school here is really immeasurable,” Kleinschmidt said.
One of the driving factors behind creating the fare-free bus system was to increases overall ridership and allow more people to access employment opportunities.
“We’re proud of the fact that Chapel Hill has the largest fare-free bus system in the country," Kleinschmidt said. "It really draws a lot positive light to our community.”
He believes the fare-free bus system has also made Chapel Hill a safer town to live in and decreased traffic congestion.
Town Council member Michael Parker is a member of the Public Transit Partners and GoTriangle and is an advocate for the fare-free bus system. He said he believes that Chapel Hill has become a national leader in making public transit accessible.
“Many people riding on a bus is much better for the environment than one or two riding in a car,” Parker said.
Parker spoke about future plans to expand the benefits of the fare-free bus system. In the process of researching the route expansions, the Town Council received over 1,700 responses from constituents weighing in on their needs for public transit in Chapel Hill.
“The fare-free system removes a major obstacle to using the buses,” Parker said. “We are in the process of working on a short-range transit plan, and we’re looking at routes for people who are transit dependent.”
As for the Donovan family, they have plans to return to the Chapel Hill Transit buses again in the near future.
"My maternity photo shoot was in Chapel Hill, so I wanted to get some pictures on the bus again," Ashley Donovan said. "She's 14 months (old) now, so I think it's high time she gets a ride on the bus."
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