The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday January 30th

Assembly of Governments discusses new Orange County transportation initiatives

The U bus stops at Franklin Street on February 23, 2021. Chapel Hill Transit recently installed new stops and coverings for their buses.
Buy Photos The U bus stops at Franklin Street on February 23, 2021. Chapel Hill Transit recently installed new stops and coverings for their buses.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Orange County Assembly of Governments discussed expanding the Mobility on Demand(MOD)project, which provides low cost, door-to-door transportation to community members.

The Assembly of Governments meeting included Chapel Hill Town Council, Carrboro Town Council, Orange County Board of County Commissioners and Hillsborough Board of Commissioners.

One of several ongoing transportation initiatives in Orange County, the MOD project has created an Uber-style ride service for residents. 

Theo Letman, transportation services director for Orange County, said the MOD project provides rides on Fridays from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

The program costs five dollars a ride, and users can expect cars to take 10 to 15 minutes to arrive, he said.

Previously, Orange County required booking two days in advance for rides. But now, residents can book rides through the MOD program on the TransLoc app or website, allowing for more flexible transportation options.

“We have a huge population of folks who don't have cars, and so when they get home from work if they get dropped off by our buses, they kind of are sequestered at home until the next day,” Letman said in an interview with The Daily Tar Heel.

He also said Orange County hopes to expand the project to provide services Monday through Friday in the evenings and all day Saturday. Staffing shortages have delayed the expansion, but the county plans to start operating six days a week within the year. 

“We do see a demand, a request, for this service in the evenings so those riders who work locally at retail outlets or those people who are just getting off work and they want to shop or go to different places in our community,” Letman said at the meeting.

MOD can take riders from Tanger Outlets in Mebane to Wegmans in Chapel Hill. Currently, the service cannot take riders into areas where Chapel Hill Transit has routes.

However, Letman said the county is working with Chapel Hill Transit to develop a plan that will allow MOD to go as far as Franklin Street, increasing the access that students and Chapel Hill residents have to the service.

“They are amenable to us running the service, on service days, to Franklin Street, and then interlining with their service,” Letman said.

Chapel Hill Transit also expanded their services in August 2020 — providing a Sunday bus service for the first time in 40 years.

“Every survey that we have done over the 13 years that I have been here, the number one request has been for Sunday service,” Brian Litchfield, director of Chapel Hill Transit, said at the Assembly of Governments meeting.

Craig Benedict, Orange County planning and inspections director, presented on the county’s transit plan.

Benedict said the plan is currently being updated. Although the updated version has not been released, he said the goals will be similar to the current plan, with new priorities.

The values in the plan include equity, environmental sustainability, economic prosperity, affordability and transit access for all. To ensure that the new plan is implemented effectively, Orange County is working with a consulting team.

“Having a plan is what you have to do first," Benedict said at the meeting on Tuesday. "But how can you implement it, how can you be dynamic, how can you make changes when the assumptions may change as you move forward?”

The Policy Steering Committee reviewed the recommendations from the consulting team and has authorized staff to obtain community engagement. The recommendations and the community feedback will be combined into a final plan, which will be up for approval later this spring.

The Assembly of Governments meet again in January 2023.

Additional information on how to use the Mobility On Demand service can be found on the Orange County government's website.

@k8e_mack

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com 

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