Is This What's Meant By 'State of the Art'?

The Chapel Hill Herald had this take on the Chapel Hill Town Council's discussion of TTA merger last night.

Consider this a thread for the general discussion of regional transit, with special emphasis on what merger with TTA would mean for Chapel Hill. Would it mean greater interconnectivity with the other transit systems? (That is, would it be easier for me to take the bus to Durham?) Would it be not much of a change at all? Would it be easier or harder for TTA to implement some of it's long-term plans (guideways, light rail, etc.) if the region's bus systems were joined, or would it not make much of a difference?

What's more progressive: regional transportation that works but isn't free and may be less "flexible"; or local public transportation that's free, reliable, convenient, but doesn't get you very far outside the town?


In order to sucessfully opt-in Chapel Hill Transit to the proposed, consolidated Triangle regional transit system while also maintaining "free" transit service for Chapel Hill and Carboro, why not check out Portland, Oregon's TriMet "Fareless Square," concept (see, an area of service in central Portland where MAX Light Rail trips beginning and ending within the zone are "free." Couldn't a similar fareless zone be implemented for future consolidated bus trips begining and ending within the current Chapel Hill Transit service footprint as part of the new, consolidated regional system?

As a former resident of Portland, I found that the fareless zone concept worked very well and was quite popular with transit users, including myself. And during the few years since I left Portland, the transit agency has extended the fareless zone (still called fareless square, although no longer resembling a square geographically) to outside the central city core and across the Willamette River...


Excuse me? This thread is about public transportation.

If you have a complaint, please take it to the contact form.

As y'all have already devined, this notion of merging the transit systems into a regional 'uber-authority' is exceedingly complex, and frought with issues surrounding service delivery, revenue structures and administration. Ostensibly, the primary goal of this exercise is to create a structure that would provide unified, 'seamless' transit service throughout the triangle, in which one could enter the system anywhere in the triangle and travel conveniently to any destination in the consolidated area. This is a laudable goal, and as has been demonstrated, would provide a substantial incentive to increase ridership. What has also been demonstrated is that cost to the consumer is the single greatest factor. It is worth noting that CHT's ridership has long been the highest, per capita, in the state. Nonetheless, the system partners (Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and UNC), were continually exploring methods of improving this. The most recent strategy--conversion to a fare-free system, with additional financial commitments from the partners, has proved to be the single most successful mechanism, resulting in an almost immediate 20% jump in ridership which has not abated. So, the first question that arises is how one organizes such seamless service without standardizing the fare structure. Do all of the governments in the region have the resources or committment required to bring the entire system fare-free, or would the riders of CHT be required to 'pony up' again? The effect that this would have in my view, on ridership, is self-evident. As a practical matter, additional problems immediately surface: The service levels provided by DATA (Durham) and CAT (Raleigh) are well known to be inferior to Chapel Hill Transit. Cary has a small demand-responsive service (C-Tran), but no fixed route service. The obvious non-solution is to dilute CHT's service levels and quality. So then, one needs to examine the systemwide cost of bringing DATA and CAT up to snuff, and extend fixed-route service to Cary. If so, how would the costs be distributed, and would the dedicated funding sources

suggested by the proponents of this scheme be sufficient to accomplish these tasks? One immutable truth is that there is a fixed cost to every 'vehicle mile' of transit service: fuel, labor, maintenance, and capital costs (vehicles).

All of this obviously requires extensive coordination and administration. The proponents of consolidation as the solution to this issue propose placing the entire enterprise under TTA's administration. Intuitively this makes sense until one examines TTA's record as a fixed-route operator. Until fairly recently, TTA's fixed route service was regarded as little better than wretched, and the basic competency of the organization highly questionable. Here are just a few examples of why: First buses purchased were not designed for the level of operation. TTA bought light-duty airport shuttles which promptly developed structural fractures and literally broke apart under the strain of long-haul service, resulting in finger-pointing and litigation. Excreable labor relations--On several occasions, employees were so unhappy with working conditions and management culture that strikes were threatened; Buses were chronically late, early, or blew past new stops, making the service impractical if one were to make transfers to the local systems. In fairness, these basic operational issues have been successfully addressed, but the fact is, that TTA has only just achieved a basic level of competence as a fixed-route provider, managing a much smaller system than any of the other providers. As such, the notion that this organization is ready to manage an atlanta-sized intra-and inter-city system, is in my view, highly questionable.

Sound like I'm dismissing the idea out of hand? Maybe. But the problem with this proposal is that the process seems to have been to propose a structure, and then move backward through the analytical chain to construct supporting reasoning. How has this happened? Well, for those of a suspicious bent of mind, questions could be raised about what and who, are driving this process. The notion of system consolidation arose from an advocacy group called the Regional Transportation Alliance, which is led and funded (in part) by Smedes York, a Raleigh developer, and the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce.(see with participation by the mayors of Cary, Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. Coincidentally, this effort is taking place in conjunction with an effort by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization to merge with (absorb?) the Durham-Chapel Hill Carrboro MPO. It is worth noting that the leadership of the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro MPO (Myself, Current Chair, and immediate past-Chair, Durham County Commissioner Becky Heron) have not been invited to participate in these discussions (See RTA's meeting schedule). At the urging of the RTA, CAMPO has unilaterally constructed a scheme to expand it's boundaries--The key component being the merger of the two MPO's. In terms of how influence would be distributed under these schemes, the natural dynamic would be to concentrate the influence in the largest participating jurisdiction in either of these merged entities--Wake County, and Raleigh. And who in Raleigh is the lead advocate in these efforts? Again those of a suspicious bent might wonder whether, given the process, this is really more about attempting to leverage triangle-wide transportation resources to boost Wake County economic development efforts and interests, rather than provide a structure to serve the needs of the entire region in partnership.

To debunk this possible perception, Triangle leaders representing the range of interests involved--Governmental, environmental, and yes economic development, and transit providers need to define what the discreet tasks and competing interests are, define the goals and objectives of regional transit through a transparent, public process and THEN consider alternative structures and methods to achieve those goals.

Tomorrow, the partner organizations of Chapel Hill Transit (Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and UNC) will meet to discuss this issue at the Chapel Hill public library at 3pm. Stay Tuned.



Duncan, I think you are right. And after thinking about it more, I realize that I'm not particularly sure that a rail system would work into Chapel Hill, because of the "hill" part of things. I think it would take some pretty costly engineering to get the train up to campus or other populated areas.

As for busways, my understanding is that they are still very far off on the horizon. It woudl be nice to figure out a way to make them happen sooner and to make them very fast to give people a real commuting option (I take the bus to work twice a week to Durham to ease my conscience, but it's not terribly convenient and it takes me twice as long to get to work on a good day and three or four times on a bad day).

Even with the busway idea, it still remains to be seen whether it will be designed for the 54 corridor, the 15-501 corridor, or both. On my commute out today I was thinking about how big an engineering feat the whole thing would be.

Oh, and we were corrected at the public meeting. It is not light rail. The final system will be more akin to a traditional subway like the metro in DC. It's not light.



I live in Carrboro, use the TTA regularly and use CH transit occasionally. I ride my bike to UNC and put my bike on the bus to RTP and then ride to the EPA. Luckily I get a free TTA pass from my work. I’m in love with the bike rack.

My knee jerk reaction is that the Triangle really needs a comprehensive system. But I have the same reservations that others have expressed. CH Transit really works. In my experience, much more people use CHT than TTA (because of the University, obviously). I’m usually on the bus with 3 or less people. The major issues as said before CHT is free and well organized. I really don’t see why TTA and CHT couldn’t work closely together on routes and schedules and still keep their autonomy. I don’t know what to say about CAT or DATA. I’ve never used them, but the DATA schedule is pretty confusing. It makes more sense for those systems to work with the TTA because of the rail. TTA and CHT should work together to make the bus-ways (or at least bus-lanes) happen. There are no easy solutions since this area is a public transit nightmare. If I wanted to take all buses to work I would have to take 3 and it would take about an hour and a half (or more!). As it is, with my bike and bus I can do it in 50min compared to ~30min by rush hour car.

Give me convenience or give me death!



a merger where one system is heavily paid for and is free for the users and well supported by UNC and idealogically by the community...

Other systems not supported as well e.g. by Duke - not free, not subsidized as much etc......Duke surely could pay as much as UNC but chooses not to. A difference of philosophies and financial support.

Interesting that most of the council is Against this merger ...

sounds a lot like another unpopular local merger issue to me.


I thought that guideways (dedicated buses and bus lanes) were the current idea for linking Chapel Hill/Carrboro with Durham/Raleigh light rail corridor. Is the idea of running light rail out here still on the table. I'm all for it, but I thought that idea was pretty much dead. But then, I'm a former member of the lazy local press corps, so I don't know diddly.

How about free local transportation *plus* regional public transportation that works but isn't free? I can imagine a great public transportation system that retains the current free access to local routes in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, with access to regional routes at modest fares. (One perhaps useful example is the MetroRail system in DC, in which the fare increases as you get farther into the suburbs.) Any other examples? Would this work?

I attended a TTA public meeting at the library that was scheduled for 7PM on Monday (the same time as the town council meeting). I would potentially support a merger since I think we need to think regionally about development and sprawl issues. At the same time, it's hard to support a regional organization that isn't really working very hard to get Chapel Hill and Carrboro connected to the rail system. The current proposal would MAYBE get a rail extension out our way in 20 or more years. It seems that any open land we have to build a rail system will be long gone by then. Would there be the possibility of developing a land trust that would go ahead and start buying a corridor for rail while TTA is busy with the rest of the system? And plans have called for the rail link to go down 15-501, but wouldn't it make more sense to have the rail follow NC54? Do you think it will ever happen considering the amount of construction and deconstruction required to get a rail line into town?

Of course, this is all assuming the rail line flies and is viable. That, or course, depends upon development patterns over the next few years around the proposed rail stations.


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