Chapel Hill Transit, a free-to-use bus service that runs throughout Chapel Hill, Carrboro and UNC's campus, will be updating its services in the new school year.
Instead of coming from bus fares, Chapel Hill Transit's funding comes from the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, as well as fees paid by UNC students.
Chapel Hill Transit Director Brian Litchfield said this model makes the system convenient for people without other options for transportation, including students. It also reduces demand for downtown parking by incentivizing residents and visitors of Chapel Hill to utilize public transit, according to Litchfield.
Chapel Hill Transit services
The Tar Heel Express provides service to home football games from the Friday Center, Southern Village and Downtown Chapel Hill near the Carolina Coffee Shop. Riders can pay $3 for a one way trip or $5 for a roundtrip to ride the shuttle to and from Kenan Stadium.
Another feature is Safe Ride, a late-night service that operates on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays along the T, G and J routes. It will be available on Aug. 18.
The Town is also developing a bus rapid transit project between Eubanks Road and Southern Village that will reduce travel time between stops by giving buses dedicated lanes and signal control to reduce wait time at lights.
In the past, transit users have been able to track the real-time location of buses using the TransLoc app. However, the devices that tracked the location of buses were outdated, and new locating equipment will be arriving in September.
“Sometime throughout this school year, we’ll have a completely new system that will have better features,” Litchfield said.
A shortage of bus operators impacting Chapel Hill Transit have caused some routes to have less frequent service. The system is currently operating at about 80 percent of its normal service, according to Litchfield.
While Chapel Hill Transit is hiring new workers, it will take time to return to normal levels of service, said Emily Powell, community outreach manager for Chapel Hill Transit.
“While we have made some really good ground lately on hiring new employees, it takes them 12 to 20 weeks to get them in place and out on our routes,” she said.
Powell added that she hopes reducing service with certain times and routes may lead to increased reliability across the board.
Chapel Hill Transit is also working to combat the worker shortage through the student operator program, a job opportunity program designed especially for students at UNC and other surrounding colleges. The program includes paid training and offers a wage of $16 per hour.
“You’re going to stay connected to campus and other students,” Powell said. “The whole job is optimized to fit your schedule."
Pam Hemminger, the mayor of Chapel Hill said that the Town has reduced the amount of parking available per 1,000 square feet of residential and commercial space in hopes of encouraging more people to ride public transit.
“We have two of the biggest employers in the state: UNC and UNC hospitals,” Hemminger said. “There're a lot of people that come into our community from outside and trying to get them onto transit is one of our goals.”
Additionally, discussions are underway for a system that moves beyond buses entirely, including a project on a commuter rail between the Raleigh, Durham and Garner areas, she added.
Although it would require federal and state funding, she said she hopes this proposal, along with the bus rapid transit project, will go forward.
“I can see the future having many different kinds of options,” Hemminger said.
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