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Chapel Hill Transit wins statewide safety award for lack of preventable accidents

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Passengers ride the bus around the UNC campus on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023.

On April 11, the Town of Chapel Hill announced in a newsletter that the North Carolina Public Transportation Association awarded Chapel Hill Transit a 2024 State Safety Award for achieving the lowest reportable accidents for the number of miles they annually drive.

CHT has provided public transportation services to residents and visitors of the Chapel Hill, Carrboro and UNC communities since 1974. The organization has won the award several times in the past in the same category, which calculates safety by dividing the number of miles driven within the year by the number of preventable accidents.

David Rhew, the executive director of NCPTA, said in an email the safety award begins with a process of nominations from across the state. Along with the overall awards, the NCPTA co-hosts an annual "Roadeo" driving safety competition, which several Chapel Hill Transit operators participated in this year.

Rhew said CHT was selected in the overall fixed route category for systems that safely travel more than one million miles per year.

"The Association is very proud of Chapel Hill Transit who continues to serve their communities safely and reliably every day," Rhew said.

Brian Litchfield, the director of CHT, said safety is the organization's foremost priority. CHT provides 7 million rides a year and operates 21 different routes, seven days a week.

While transit may seem centered around bus drivers, Litchfield said, safety begins with the initial training of all team members. This understanding of safety should be carried out throughout one's career and involves all aspects of CHT's operations, including the maintenance team, safety team and supervisors. 

"[The award is] the result of a lot of different efforts from a lot of different team members to make that possible,” Litchfield said.

Jack Smith, a Chapel Hill resident who uses CHT services, said all the operators are constantly trying to ensure safety on the buses and follow all the regulations.

“Safety is really important to me and I feel comfortable using Chapel Hill's transit because it is extremely safe and I have not heard of any other incidents,” Smith said.

But, Litchfield said, one of CHT's challenges is that most of its service areas are not necessarily designed for public transportation because of narrow roads and other infrastructural limitations. Litchfield also said aspects like the University and hospital significantly increase the population they serve, resulting in a challenging environment.  

Despite these challenges, Litchfield said CHT collaborates with the University, Town, and state to ensure adequate safety measures and make necessary improvements for things like crosswalks and bus stops. While these efforts require time and resources, the organization is committed to enhancing safety for everyone, even if progress may take longer than desired.

CHT was also recently named in President Joe Biden's budget. Biden recommended more than $138 million in funding for CHT's North-South Bus Rapid Transit project, set to be constructed by 2029 along Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd and Columbia Street.

Chapel Hill Town Council member Melissa McCullough said one of the goals of the project is to increase density of housing along the corridor. With better transit services, she said, residents can better afford the high cost of housing in Chapel Hill.

“Our transit director and the staff and the operators all do a great job," McCullough said. "When you're riding the bus, tell them 'Thank you' because they're a great department and they do a good job of serving our residents.”

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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