WSTA changing most bus routes

WSTA changing most bus routes
April 30
00:00 2015

The Winston-Salem Transit Authority is preparing for the first ever major overhaul of its routes, and the public is being invited to give its input.

WSTA will be holding more than 20 meetings around the city to get public comments on the proposed changes, which will go into effect later this year or early next year.

WSTA General Manager Art Barnes said that WSTA has made small incremental changes to its routes over the past four decades, but that’s become inefficient over the years.

“Instead of dealing with the forest, we’ve been dealing with the trees for a long time,” he said. “So we decided to deal with the forest, and some of the things we wanted to do is take a look at how we can become more efficient, and that means some direct routes to our major generators … like malls and hospitals, social services.”

Some of the routes go back decades, back to the Safe Bus Co., the precursor to the WSTA. Safe Bus was a private, black-owned bus company founded in 1926 to provide mass transit for the black sections of the city during segregation. The company would operate until 1972, when it was bought out by the city and became the WSTA, which now makes more than 2 million passenger trips a year and provides service seven days a week.

Barnes said making incremental changes had caused some routes to lengthen and caused passengers to take longer to get to their destinations. He said the goal with the new routes will be to have shorter travel time, better passenger access and increase the frequency of bus service. This will all be done at the current cost of the transit system, using the same amount of miles driven and worker hours. There won’t be an increased cost to passengers or the city.

WSTA has already used its automatic passenger counter information and a survey of passenger’s origin and destinations to draw up new proposed routes.  Barnes said changes in travel patterns will be taken into account for things like more direct routes to popular destinations. There will also be changes in the amount of routes at certain times of day. For instance, Saturday would see less daytime routes but more nighttime routes. There will be changes to bus stops using federal funds to update and add stops.

The new route proposal will be presented by the WSTA staff at meetings from May 6 to June 8, where the public will be able to comment.

“We need to know from our constitutes what their needs are that we haven’t covered already,” Barnes said.

After that, changes may be made to the proposed routes. Then they’ll be submitted for approval by the WSTA Board of Directors in June, and then to City Council.

City Council Member Dan Besse, who chairs the Public Works Committee that oversees transportation, said WSTA has reached out to City Council members to get input on the routes in their wards. He said he’s relayed several requests from his constitutes on route changes, including getting service to apartment complexes near Academy Street that didn’t previously have it. He hopes the public comes out to the comment meetings.

“We need the opportunity for direct public feedback through these public meetings to back-stop our estimates to make sure we’re getting it right,” he said.

Besse said like other cities across the nation, Winston-Salem is attempting to improve its bus service with limited funds after cuts in federal funding for public transportation. He said the city has made important strides, like Next Bus, which lets passengers use their computers or smart phones to know when their buses will get to the bus stops. He hopes improvements will help WSTA attract new passengers.

Barnes said when the route changes take place, there will be an “incredible” marketing campaign to let passengers know when the changes go into effect and what they’ll be.

For a full list of public hearings on route changes, see the WSTA ad on page  A4.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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