Learn more about transit

Guest post by Patrick McDonough

As we approach the fall elections, various candidates for public office in Orange County have mentioned improving or reducing Chapel Hill Transit service as an issue they would like to discuss in the campaign. In January 2002, Chapel Hill Transit went fare-free. Despite characterizations to the contrary by some, the numbers indicate that the policy has been quite a success. Since Fare-Free began, the number of passengers per hour using the system has gone up, and the cost of carrying each individual passenger has gone down. In short, the towns and UNC are getting more units of mobility for each dollar spent.

For candidates (and citizens!) who have mentioned transit and transportation issues as something they would like to address, I recommend some of the following links:

  • National Transit Database Publications

    The NTD is the performance data clearinghouse for all transit agencies that receive federal funds and are large enough to require reporting data. Don't download the whole database, it's byzantine and hard to read. However, the Profiles are much better.

    At the above link, roll your mouse over the "Profiles" link, then roll to the right and select "All agencies" for any year. You can then search for Chapel Hill Transit. Comparing the 2001 and 2003 profile performance measures will show the productivty gains created by fare-free.

  • Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Publications

    The TCRP is the best source for scholarly, peer-reviewed studies of how transit works and why it works the way it does in the United States, and to a lesser extent, abroad.

    The breadth of topics is impressive, and many best practices are documented. Some sample titles, all available in PDF:

    "Integration of Bicycles and Transit"
    "Transit Scheduling: Basic and Advanced Manuals"
    "Low Cost and Cost-Effective Marketing Techniques for Public Transit Agencies"
    "Transit Pricing and Fares"
    "Transit-Oriented Development in the United States: Experiences, Challenges, and Prospects"

  • Victoria Transport Policy Institute

    VPTI, chaired by Todd Littman and located in Victoria, B.C., is an excellent resource on a host of transportation and land use topics. Littman is a frequent presenter at the Transportation Research Board in Washington, D.C., the premier gathering for transportation research in the world.

    Two particular topics of his worth noting are: Public Transit Encouragement and Parking Management

With all that on the table, where do candidates and others think we should be headed with transit in this area? To add perspective, I encourage anyone responding to post:
- When was the last time you rode a Chapel Hill Transit bus?
- How often you use the system?

Patrick McDonough is a regular Chapel Hill Transit rider, and has a Master's Degree in Transportation and Land Use Planning from UNC-Chapel Hill.


WillR, I agree with what you say - to a point. I don't believe that the % of citizens using CHT is anywhere near the % that recycles. So I believe that we're still on the upward slope of the learning curve regarding public transit and anything we can do (within reason; e.g. a 0.3% increase in a total tax bill) to facilitate that learning process might be helpful.

Great resources, Patrick. Thanks.

It has been two years since I rode a Chapel Hill bus. Of course, I'm basically a hermit, so I may not count. All my transportation budget goes into broadband. And the main way I run errands is by bicycle on the Booker Creek greenway to Eastgate. (It's mostly flat.)

I'm assuming local bus ridership patterns are highly variable depending on route -- and maybe even subroute. If that's true, some routes are effectively subsidizing others.

What's the best current thinking on this phenomenon? I ask because I sense that many of the critics/skeptics of fare free are probably living in sprawled or older neighborhoods (like mine) where most buses are mostly empty most of the time. I used to think that this was a good idea because it would eventually lure people into riding . . . but I'm not sure that's true. Recently I've wondered if neighborhoods like mine (Lake Forest) are fatally flawed from a transit perspective and if they will ever deliver the critical mass of riders necessary to justify the kind of short-cycle service necessary to hit the convenience threshold. If that's true, should we be biting the political bullet and cutting off low volume routes? Or should we keep on trucking, hoping that something will change? Or is it simply a matter of equity (in this case, subsidizing more affluent neighborhoods).

I'm sure the transportation planners are futzing with these issues continually . . . but I've not seen a public discussion recently that was clear and straightforward. Thanks for getting it going.


"Despite characterizations to the contrary by some, the numbers indicate that the policy has been quite a success. Since Fare-Free began, the number of passengers per hour using the system has gone up, and the cost of carrying each individual passenger has gone down. In short, the towns and UNC are getting more units of mobility for each dollar spent."

Could you clarify some of these points? I'm not sure I understand the metrics you're using.

1) What baseline is meant by "Since Fare-Free began"; before Fare-Free (BFF) or the situation right after the transitions. If it's the latter, is this saying that the numbers showing continuing improvement?

2) Number of passengers per hour conflates several variables, including operating hours, and number of buses. For example, eliminating all off-peak services would raise the number of passengers per hour but lower overall ridership.

3) What is meany by "the cost of carrying each individual passenger". Is this average or marginal cost?

4) When you say "the towns and UNC are getting more units of mobility for each dollar spent", how are you defining units of mobility, and how are you defining costs? Also, by "towns" and "UNC", are you talking the community as a whole, or the insitutions as funding sources?

5) Have any surveys been taken to determine how many of the extra bus rides represent additional journeys that would not otherwise have been made, and for all other cases, which other modes would have been used?

6) Are there any estimates on the number of people who have given up their cars, or decided not to obtain one primarily based on the improvements in overall bus service?

7) Have their been any suggestive improvements in road congestion that might be bus related (it's hard to tell with all the roadwork these past few years).

8) How sensitive are the ridership figures to rush-hour trips to the the UNC park-and-ride lots? The loss of campus parking spaces due to construction pushed a lot of people out to these lots. How many new rides are displaced workers traveling at peak times? How does this affect allocation of costs between UNC and the Towns (with a capital T :-)?

9) Have surveys been taken to see what effect different prices might have on rider behaviour(e.g. with same level of subsidy, whether people would rather pay 50c at peak times on certain routes for more frequent service). How many rides wouldn't be taken if the fare were 1c?

[Why does it feel like the planet is a month ahead, and we've entered campaign season before the end of silly season? Not only can't I run for a Carrboro seat, just because I live in Durham, but I can't run for Chapel Hill Mayor because I'm not called Kevin. All that, and Wagstaff too. Oh, if only I had a senior correspondent... ]

the gap between a one cent fare and free fare is enormous, because there is a huge operational advantage to free fare -- the bus does not have to wait while individual riders are screened by the driver to make sure they have a valid pass or have out money into the farebox. At stops with heavy boarding, this greatly speeds up the departure.

It has been six hours since I rode the J bus to work.

You asked:
6) Are there any estimates on the number of people who have given up their cars, or decided not to obtain one primarily based on the improvements in overall bus service?

I have an electric truck that has a 40-mile range and had an
old Chevy that I would use to drive further. Last May the
Chevy finally died of a blown head gasket and I haven't replaced it. Not only are there (good) environmental impacts,
but I save a lot of money too. Jack Benny watch out!

Here is one metric you haven't noted: Since the buses went
fare-free, and increased ridership and routes dramatically, the town has not had to raise the transporation property tax
rate. Back in the Jim Protzman era on the town council,
a frequent criticism by town residents of the bus system
was that the buses are used almost exclusively to transport
people to UNC, so shouldn't UNC pay for them? Guess what?
They do; UNC significantly increased their contribution to
the town bus system, Vice Chancellor Suttenfield noting
as this was done that without the buses, UNC and UNCH could not function, since most faculty, staff, and students couldn't get to campus any other way.

About 33,000 people commute to campus every day and
there are about 12,000 parking spaces available to
commuters. Without the
bus system, the campus would have to be paved over.
I don't think anyone wants that.

I have always wondered if there have been any studies to see what percentage of the ridership increase is due to people who used to walk or bike, but now ride the bus because it is free.

Responses to the above:

1. The baseline I am using is the NTD 2001 profile for Chapel Hill. The post-fare free data I am referencing is the 2003 profile. See instructions on how to find the profiles online in the initial post on this thread.

2. You are correct that you can raise efficiency per unit of service hours while lowering overall ridership. I cite this number because the number of [passenger trips per hour that a vehicle is in service] is widely considered to be one of the best indicators of a transit system's overall level of productivity. FYI- this does not count any time running to or from the garage when the bus is not picking up passengers.

3. Average cost. Marginal cost per passenger is harder to quantify because of the "lumpiness" that often accompanies transit investments. For example, imagine a bus route which has every seat full, and each day, has room for only 3 standees because there are 20 people already standing on board. The cost of serving three additional passengers is minimal. The cost of serving a fourth passenger is much higher because suddenly you need another bus on that route at the same time, and another driver's salary.

4. I'm defining a passenger trip (or single boarding) as a unit of mobility. I'm using hours of service as a unit of spending. Compared to pre-fare free service, Chapel Hill Transit is currently producing more trips per hour of service. In terms of benefits, I'm speaking broadly to a combination of your definitions.

5. Chapel Hill Transit's last onboard survey was conducted in 2003. It was not designed to answer the question you ask.
Here is a PDF link with summary results.

6. I don't know of any data on this.

7. Again, I'm not aware of any formal studies. My sense is that transit is not necessarily going to decongest untolled roads. What is more likely is that it will slow the rate of congestion growth. This slowing effect may provide benefits by deferring or eliminating the need for road expansion projects or parking decks.

8. Surely UNC's parking policy is one of the key determining factors of local transit usage. Some recently displaced parkers are likely park-and-riders. There is evidence that some Chapel Hill-Carrboro residents park and ride despite having access to local routes. I imagine that as some of the park-and-ride lots have become overcrowded, CH/C park-and-riders may be switching to local neighborhood routes as a secondary effect.

I'd suggest reviewing this webpage at the VTPI website to learn more about methods that could be used to answer some of your questions, particularly those in 5,6,7, and 8. http://www.vtpi.org/tdm/tdm62.htm

9. Fare elasticity studies (what you are asking about) are notoriously difficult to undertake due to the highly local nature of many travel markets. There may have been some studies like this conducted prior to the fare-free decision. Again, VTPI:

Allan's question about walking/biking trips diverted to bus is also largely unanswered. So would be a question about how many more walking trips were CREATED by the existence of fare-free bus service.

From my own experience, the EASE of using the free bus (no “do I have the correct change” moments) has certainly diverted trips from driving to the bus. On rare occasions, it diverts a walk trip of mine to the bus. I find that dangerous motorists are a bigger deterrent to my cycling frequency than anything else.

On the point about neighborhoods that use service less than others- CHT has a service standard “to provide a bus stop within ¼ mile of 90% of Chapel Hill households.”


"On the point about neighborhoods that use service less than others- CHT has a service standard “to provide a bus stop within ¼ mile of 90% of Chapel Hill households.”

You forgot to add that if a citizen lives in the CHT service area but more than 1/4 mile from a bus stop they can call CHT and the dispatcher will arrange to have a van pick them up and then drop them off at the nearest bus stop.

I can tell you that there are teens out there riding, as opposed to parents DRIVING them, because of Fare Free. I know I made MY kid "take the bus" or walk many times. Of course, I make my kid ride the bus to SCHOOL--evil mother that I am...unless he has a big project that needs transporting. Then I drive. I hate (physically large)projects.

That was before his buddies got there licenses. Now they ususally drive.

I'm hoping if gas gets even more expensive, they'll go back to the buses! (I'm not paying for gas!)


I have never been on a CHT bus. (Always something new and despicable to reveal...)

I can walk to CHHS, but I don't pay city taxes. Is it legitimate for me to call for a feeder van to pick me up at CHHS (free of charge) and deliver me to an active zone between 8:30 am and 3:45 pm? It seems wrong.

Also, I see those virtually empty buses in the Lake Forest area too. Should this be a feeder zone?

I ride the bus uptown and to meetings at the library on occasion, but I find it really difficult to do since I don't know the schedule and ride erratically. I use the online schedule, but it's a real pain to have to figure out the formula for each trip I want to take, since there are many buses that can usually meet my needs and no systematic way of predicting their schedules.

When I was a kid, I used to ride Chapel Hill Transit after school from Carrboro Elementary to downtown Chapel Hill where my mom had a store. There were about 3-4 other kids who also caught the city bus most days. This was around 1979.

I personally ride the bus to school or Franklin whenever I have class (except on the occassions, I decide that 15 more minutes of snooze sleep is worth $6 for all-day parking on Rosemary... it's a flawed cost-benefit analysis, as 40 cents per minute of sleep isn't usually a tempting offer). I recently experienced a new perspective of CHT though --
I think we also forget what a great resource fare free busing is for allowing people with disabilities to live independently.

I didn't think I would ride much in the summer -- until I broke my collarbone and wasn't allowed to drive. Since my family lives in Fayetteville, they weren't exactly at my fingertips to drive me around and I didn't have a roommate at the time. Chapel Hill Transit may not take me everywhere I need to go exactly when I would like to go there, but it did get me to the library, the hospital, physical therapy in Carrboro, the grocery store, restaurants and shops and friends' houses.

Creating a community where people who are elderly or with physical or mental challenges that don't allow them to drive can still have independence and mobility to go through daily life is something that is difficult to value. Plus with all the revenue that the hospital and medical research draws to the area, it makes very good sense to be hospitable and accomodating to folks who can't drive or ride bikes.

I wonder if a well-publicized night bus service--maybe one evening a week during the summer--would prompt people to get on a bus, go downtown, have a dinner and a few drinks without worrying about driving home. It would run until 10 or 11. You could do dinner and a movie, or just bar hop, hang out, shoot pool, walk downtown, whatever. It could get people on the bus who've never been on it, get people downtown during a time when businesses really need it.

Save me a seat!

Yes, but George, we are talking about the "community" using the transit system. I assume that my neighbors are pretty typical of Chapel Hillians. They have kids with soccer or lacrosse gear that need to be hauled around. When they get home, their idea of a a night out just doesn't include hopping on a bus.
To use your own logic " it's not about you", George. I'm not saying that public transportation can't grow in this area. I'm saying that your proposal of increasing funding for nightime routes bringing people into downtown Chapel Hill and Carrboro doesn't jive with my understanding of the community's use of transit.

BTW, you pay school taxes, and your property value is increased by the desirability of good schools. Where's the upside of buses ? In fact, If you slap a bus stop on the corner, you hurt the property value of the two or three houses nearest it because of the added noise, let alone the crime problem associated with buses.

AMEN to what George said. Katrina, aren't you from an unincorporated neighborhood fighting annexation into Carrboro? On what basis do you "assume that my neighbors are pretty typical of Chapel Hillians?" You and your neighbors may have moved there to enjoy city schools at county prices, but many of us who live in town are glad to be more active participants in and contributors to the community.

When I was on the C.H. Transportation Board about 10 years ago I also proposed a "late night" route. I brought it up for several years in a row but got no support from the other board members or staff. Some you may not realize it, but Chapel Hill and Carrboro are known for having a great live music scene and most of it goes on after dark in places serving alcohol. We are not just talking about drunk students at Players. There is definitely a need for a late-night bus. It would support local businesses and the arts, and it could be accomplished quite simply and inexpensively.

For example, the last time I visited Belfast, there was a bus you could get on when the pubs closed (11 pm) and tell the driver what general neighborhood you lived in. You might not get right to your door and it might take a while, but you could count on having a safe ride home when you needed it. (The student-run P-2-P is great, but my understanding is that they pretty much only serve downtown and campus.)

I've suggested to Council in the past that we could increase night service by a reasonable tax increase (not a popular idea, as you might imagine). The advantage of increasing service at night is that you don't need new equipment. Unless the numbers have changed dramatically, it costs about $60/hr to run a CHT bus. If we increase the transportation tax rate by 1/2 cent (from 4.58 to 5.08) we would raise about an additional $295,000 that could be used for night service. This would fund about 4900 hours of service. If we increased service on both Friday and Saturday evenings by 4 hrs each then we would be able to fund such increased service on 6 routes.
What would this 1/2 cent increase cost the taxpayers? If you assume the average home in CH is $350,000, then the cost per home would be about $17/year. In the last year alone, gas has gone up nearly $0.50/gallon. Assuming the average homeowner in CH drives 12,000 miles/year and gets 20 miles/gallon (lot of SUVs) and has two vehicles (probably an underestimation) then the average homeowner is paying about $600 more this year for gas than last year. So it doesn't seem to me that asking the average homeowner to pay an additional $17/year to have nighttime bus service on Friday & Saturdays on at least 6 routes is asking too much. I can't imagine that this wouldn't be positive for the downtown merchants. Anyone else agree?

Wow! George, that post contains an awful lot of assumptions.

The realtors board puts the average price of a home in Chapel Hill at $237,000. The buses are a Chapel Hill-UNC-Carrboro co-operative effort, so realistically you should use the school district average of $174,000 so that cuts your revenue figures in half.

The state puts SUV and light truck registrations in the Chapel Hill Carrboro zipcodes at just under 30%. And the average "local" milage on a non- truck vehicle is 24 MPG for 2002 models. ( Most people aren't driving brand new cars. I just picked 2002 out of thin air.) These numbers aren't particularly germaine to your point, but I am not a fan of painting people as "SUV driving wastrels".

Most people I know don't like to dress up for " date night"
and then stand for an hour at a bus stop. If you're talking about couples with children, the additional cost of babysitting for the extra 11/2 hours spent waiting for and riding a bus make it a non-cost effective option, as well. Whether your 6 route plan would actually yield any benefit to downtown merchants is a theory, at best.

We do need to have a discussion about expanding public transit in our area. I'd like to see the numbers, but my first instinct is that a shuttle from the 15-501 hotel corridor to and from downtown during basketball and football games would be profitable. Special shuttles to Southpoint during the holiday season and even "tax free" weekend are a possibility. Other than that type of "event" oriented service, Chapel Hill Carrboro just doesn't have the necessary population to support round-the-clock transit. I'm not at all convinced we wouldn't be just adding dollars to town expenditures and greenhouse gases to the local environment by running more buses.

I may certainly have been high on the valuations for all CH homes but I do think that the figure I gave was probably reasonable for new homes. However, the revenue that could be generated is, I believe, accurate in any case. I didn't include Carrboro in the calculations because that would be a different tax rate (I was only using the transportation tax rate for CH since that was readily available. So any revenue that might be generated from Carrboro could be added to the figure I gave. In the current 2005-2006 budget, CH generates $2.7 million from their 4.58 cent transportation tax rate. Thus, increasing the rate from 4.58 cents to 5.08 cents would increase revenues $295,000 irregardless of what figure you use for the average property value. Using your figure of $174,000/home, the increase would amount to about $8.70 per homeowner. The average homeowner would probably recoup this amount in 4 trips assuming that they might pay for parking if they drove.
The idea of increasing service would be to have schedules that are more frequent than every hour. And there are times when you might go downtown on a Friday or Saturday night and not necessarily "dress up". Right now our bus system primarily serves UNC students and employees during the day. If we ever hope to get the rest of the citizens of CH used to the idea of mass transit we need to begin by offering service at hours that they might take advantage of. And yes, my idea that increasing nightime bus service might benefit downtown businesses is indeed a theory. But right now I hear a lot of complaining about how bad things are but a limited number of ideas on what to do about it (other than to keep Wal-Mart out of Chatham County). I like the idea of the shuttle to Southpoint. As Patrick McDonough has already pointed out, there already is one that runs with a 29 minute headway. Perhaps the secret would be to subsidize it to encourage its use during those times you mentioned.

" It would run until 10 or 11. You could do dinner and a movie, or just bar hop, hang out, shoot pool, walk downtown, whatever. It could get people on the bus who've never been on it, get people downtown during a time when businesses really need it. "

Some of us don't go out until 10 or 11! If we want to help out late-night establishments, this hypothetical summer bus should until 2:30. :)

Hey, this is Chapel Hill. Getting dressed up is putting on your better pair of sneakers.

Seriously, though, if you know the schedule, you shouldn't have to wait more than 15 minutes. Katrina, that's an assumption you made that I can't buy. It's not very supportive of mass transit in general, is it?

On the other hand, even if night bus service is as affordable as George predicts, it's still a waste of money if it's not used. So I'm not convinced either, but if it were successful, it would result in a net reduction in greenhouse gases, and draw people to downtown instead of SouthPoint, et. al. So it's worth looking into further, in my opinion.

That's why I thought a limited offering would help test the waters. Again, it has to be well publicized in the media, or its going to fail for sure. It could be done in conjunction with one of the town's summer concerts.

Every summer should include a compaign welcoming Chapel Hillians back downtown. It's really the nicest time to be down there. It's sort of ours again. (I don't mean that to sound anti-student.) Perhaps our bus system could be succcessfully leveraged for that.

I guess I'm showing my age, Ginny. Maybe running times could be considered on a route-by-route basis. In my neighborhood, served by the G bus, that 2:30 am run would be a lonely one.

The UNC students have, for several years, funded a late-night CHT bus service. I believe that it operated on 2-3 nights/week (Thurs-Sat), on 2-3 routes, and from about 11PM-3 AM. Although the students funded it, any CH citizens could use it. Whether they will continue to do so this year I don't know. I thought it was a great idea and would not only like to see it continued but expanded as discussed earlier.

Ed, check out the "safe G" bus. It runs till 2:30 am thurs, fri, and sat nights and covers much of the regular G route around glen lenox. The "safe T" route goes out to Timberline at the same times. See you at Players

Clark, that's the problem. I fall outside the "much of" you mention on the G route. At the T route still leaves quite a hike. It gets me about half-way home.

Katrina, the Tar Heel Express already runs during basketball and football games, as well as other events (the examples in the bus schedule are Halloween on Franklin Street and Apple Chill), for $3 one way, or $5 roundtrip, from areas all over town, including downtown, but also some parking lots.

Patrick, thanks for posting this information. I ride transit regularly. Usually when I go to campus, I'm there for several hours, so it's definitely worth it for me to take the bus. In fact, I took note of the bus routes when deciding where to live in town, so the free fare was an important part of that decision. Sometimes I ride my bike, but I often wear nicer clothes for work, clothes that aren't conducive to bike riding.

I really like Chapel Hill Transit and find that the vast majority of the drivers are extremely professional and very friendly. Plus the buses are comfortable and in good shape, which I especially appreciate after riding Duke Transit a bit this summer.

My quibbles are few and far between, but here are a few:

Some of the bus stops don't have curb cuts or paved areas, and aren't accessible by any sidewalk. So you're stuck standing on the grass waiting for the bus. Not a big deal usually, but if it's raining hard, it can be a mess.

As I've mentioned earlier, my route (F) ends too early for me to take the bus home after my evening classes, which end at 8:30. I'd love it if I could the bus home those evenings instead of begging a ride from my husband or a friend.

The bus stop in front of the Carolina Coffee Shop is nice, with covered waiting areas and benches. The stop across the street in front of Pepper's is not so nice: no covered area (so people huddle under the Varsity entry way if it's raining); no sun protection; and only a few benches. This is a major stop and I think it should be spruced up (though I realize there's not a lot of space on the sidewalk).

Most students and staff I know ride the bus to work. In fact, the students I know who drive are usually either rich kids who have money to burn or folks who live far enough outside of town that they've bought a pass. Or folks who went to a small school where everyone could drive, and just aren't used to bus culture.

Katrina, I'm curious, when was the last time you used a Chapel Hill Transit bus?

The reason I ask is very few people in the Triangle wait an hour for a bus, even when service is once an hour.

If you live along a route with frequency X (the bus comes every X minutes), then you divide the X by 2, and that gives you the average time you'd spend waiting for the bus if you just stood by the road and never looked at the schedule.

For example, if you live along the J route (15-minute service much of the day) and simply walk to the bus stop every day without any planning, on average, you'll wait 7.5 minutes for the bus. Of course, with a bare minimum of planning, this is different.

My wife and I live along the F route (every 30 minutes). We took the bus to/from Mediterranean Deli for dinner tonight. We looked up the time, walked 1 minute to the stop, waited 4 minutes because the bus was running a little late. We checked the last trip back to Carrboro, and caught the bus with barely any waiting at all (3 minutes) on the way home.

Our trip time on the bus was 7-9 minutes at most, each way. We left at 7:25, didn't have to pay to park, we didn't have to find a space, spent money at a local business, and were home by 8:35.


I'll confess. I have only taken the bus a few times. Before relocating into town, I lived in an area that has, at best, sporadic service. Now I walk most places.

Having lived in London, Paris, Hong Kong and Chicago, I am probably spoiled. I can't imagine waiting 20 minutes for a bus. ( That adds 40 minutes to your trip if you don't have to transfer. If you have to transfer...who knows?) Again, that 40 minutes, plus the time to walk to the bus stop adds an hour to my transit time. Babysitters in our neighbor hood get $8.00 an hour. Parking downtown is at most $3.50. So you raise my taxes by $200 to cost me more money per evening trip and waste a precious hour away from the kids. I don't see any of my neighbors signing on for that plan.

Chapel Hill/Carrboro is a place people move to raise children. A kid centered life doesn't work all that well on a bus. I'm a big fan of public transportation, as I really do prefer to ride rather than drive. I'm just not sold on the viability of late night routes in this area.

You just don't get it. Building a public transportation system isn't just about YOU. So you pay $200 and don't have any use for the buses. I don't have children in the schools but I readily pay my school taxes because they build a better community and children are the future leaders of tomorrow. You may not need nor want to use the buses but there are others in the community that don't have the luxury of that choice. And while public transit may not be absolutely critical now, it very well may be an necessity as we grow the community. Do you really want to see another 10,000-20,000 cars per day on MLK boulevard? I can understand your personal desire not to be standing around since you have other things you can be doing. What I can't understand is your willingness to let the automobile continue to be our primary mode of moving people as we grow. Is that your vision for Carrboro's next 20 years?

Katrina, I see lots of families with children, even small children, on my bus regularly. All the time, actually. I've also seen lots of teenagers and younger kids on the bus by themselves. And I once saw a field trip of little kids and a few teachers from McDougle taking the bus to UNC--what a great savings for the school not to have to get a bus for this adventure. My point here is that I think Chapel Hill Transit is very kid-friendly.

And, yeah, buses are different here than in larger cities: you can't just go to the bus stop and wait 2 minutes for the next bus. But a quick check of the bus schedule makes this easy enough--truly, I don't believe I've ever waited more than a few minutes for the bus.

"In fact, If you slap a bus stop on the corner, you hurt the property value of the two or three houses nearest it because of the added noise, let alone the crime problem associated with buses."

Katrina, I think you've made your position regarding transit pretty clear. Those who use public transit are more likely to be criminals so let's keep the buses out of our neighorhoods. And those noisy buses drive you crazy and you have no use for them anyway because you can hop in your car whenever you want. I can only hope that your attitude represents a minority of Carrboro citizens.

OK, Katrina says:

"In fact, If you slap a bus stop on the corner, you hurt the property value of the two or three houses nearest it because of the added noise, let alone the crime problem associated with buses."

Do you have eny empirical data on property values? I remember buying a house in Chapel Hill in 1979 BECAUSE there was a bus stop right in front, might that have brought EXTRA imcome to the seller?
And what crime problem are you talking about being associated with buses? Can you please be specific?

I'm not alleging that only "criminals" use public transit. ( Nice spin though George...very Karl Rove) I wrote there was a crime "problem" associated with transit. I had a recent conversation with members of the Carrboro police department, and they told me that a significant part of the crime in Carrboro took place on and around the buses and bus stops. To me, that indicates a problem. Crime problems tend to be worse at night. I don't see this as being particularly controversial.

Gerry, I'm making an assumption that people who pay the $400,000 plus sale price an in-town single family residence don't want a bus stop in front of their home based purely on anecdotes related to me by friends selling such properties.

Actually, Ruby, I'm from a small town in west Texas.I'll leave Ruby's assertions of why I live where I do alone and point out that Belfast is roughly twice the size of Chapel Hill ( Belfast reports a population of 74,000) so they have more population to support transit. Let alone that Belfast is in Europe where gas starts at about $4.50 a gallon and the cars per capita are about half what they are in North Carolina, which encourages people to use public transportation. What works in Belfast has nothing to do with our community.

I'm addressing the very simple proposal brought forth by George that increased late night bus transportation would be used by non-student town residents and benefit downtown businesses. I just don't think the evidence is there to support that claim. I think there is an opportunity to expand public transit in our area. I just don't see George's idea as the best next step in transit for the area.

Perhaps your sources in the Carrboro police department can share those statistics with the rest of the public. If true, I'm sure that everyone would like to know about it so that we can begin to address the issue. Please let us know who those sources are or ask them to go public with that information.

I think you might see that come up as a campaign issue, George.

Just for the record, here's one Chapel Hill suburban dweller who long ago looked for a way to get to and from downtown by bus at night. I'm not a big drinker, but after a couple of beers, I would feel safer and would certainly set a better example for my children by riding rather than driving. That's why I brought this idea forward here.

And they don't even have to run every 30 minutes. Perhaps just a couple of runs a night. A night on the town shouldn't be a type A thing. If your movie ends after the first run, go hang out somewhere until the next bus comes.

By the way, there is no way SouthPoint is going to offer something like this. If we want to make our downtown more vital, we need to look at ways to differentiate downtown from the alternatives.

All this said, a study on how much this service would be used beforehand is not a bad idea, if it's practical to do so.

I've read about crime problems at a few Carborro bus stops, but that is a long way from saying that bus stops are undesirable. One could make the same erroneous conclusion about street corners. In my neighborhood, a bus stop is a sign by the curb. There's one just a couple of houses down from mine. The only shady character hanging around it would be me if I could ride the bus in the evening.

After nearly 30 years of association with Chapel Hill/Carrboro, I think it would be safe to say that public transit is a community value. But very few 'innovations' such as night time bus routes are immediately successful. It might take a couple of months for ridership to grow beyond students going home from late classes or the library, but it would grow. No doubt about it. The question seems to me to be one of political will. How long can such environmentally friendly policies continue to thrive in the face of a demographic shift toward middle-to-upper class non-University related citizenry?

Terri, you make a good point: the new demographic might mean some folks don't value transit when it doesn't benefit them or their neighbors. I see many non-students and non-university folks using the bus for their work commute; I know because they are wearing their K&W uniform (as an example). Certainly these folks could also benefit from riding transit later in the evenings, since their shifts are often not 9-5.

Katrina, it's a shame that you are having such a hard time recognizing the benefits of transit to folks who can't afford those $400,000 houses. Transit is used a lot by folks in our area who can't afford cars or perhaps only have one vehicle/family.

Again, I know that my decision to live in Carrboro was directly related to the nearby bus stop. Perhaps I'm also suffering from a failure of imagination when I recognize the value of transit that doesn't directly benefit me.

In terms of trying something new (e.g., night-time bus service on weekends): those who have lived here long enough might remember that a great many people were predicting that fare-free would never generate the 10-20% ridership gain that CHT and its partners were predicting. I think that the first-year ridership increase was at least 30-40%. And ridership has increased strongly every year since.

Katrina, you said "Crime problems tend to be worse at night. I don't see this as being particularly controversial."

You're right - it's not. But just because there is crime at night doesn't mean we shouldn't go out or that we shouldn't offer services to the public which encourage them to be out. It means we have to deal with the crime. I've walked in many cities at night and felt safe and others where I didn't. In those instances where I felt safe it was usually because there were other people out and about. Encouraging people to be downtown at night can potentially improve safety. If there is crime we need to deal with it - not sweep it under the rug and tell people to stay home.

For what it's worth, I spoke with a captain in Carrboro's PD today and he said he couldn't recall a single incidence of a crime against a person at a bus stop in Carrboro or on a bus. He wasn't willing to go on record without reviewing the statistics. I didn't think it was worth asking them to go to any extra trouble over this. Since there is a bus stop about every block in the downtown area, it would be hard for there to be any crime that wasn't close to a bus stop.

Thanks Terri. It does seem that the news media would have picked up on a crime wave at Carrboro's bus stops but from what Katrina said I guess we'll hear more about it as the campaign season revs up.

Well, since I'm off to a meeting, I'll leave y'all with this.

The Lt. and three other members of the Carrboro police force that I met with unanimously voiced their concerns about extending bus hours. The Lt. went so far as to say his opinion was that the buses should stop at 7 o'clock. He based that on his 15+ years on the force.

And now, making a turn for the positive, and returning this thread back to it's original intent. I do think we should expand transit service.

I don't think that running buses to downtown in the evening is the answer. Big Spring Tx, the town I grew up in, has a program they call "Dial-a-ride". It's basically a town organized car pool using small shuttle buses. It runs from 7 AM to midnight. You can call and request a pick up and drop off anywhere in town on 2 hours notice. Whe you call, they'll tell you about how long the trip will be based on the reservations they've got. It's covered by your monthly fare card, or $2 a trip. The elderly can get to doctors appointments without standing around in the hot Texas sun, kids can get back and forth from play practice, and you can take it into town to go to dinner and visit you local honky-tonk, if you're so inclined. There is also a sliding scale fee card for low income residents and the disabled. I think that kind of program "WOULD" be used by area residents, and it has the additional security benefit of knowing who is getting on and off the bus.

Gerryc asked you to be specific about your "...crime problem associated with buses" statement. I'm asking you to provide the report that suggests this is the case with buses or bus stops in the CHT system. I'm also asking you to please state the name of your Carrboro police sources or ask them to express their concerns to the media where they can be presented to the public and addressed by the municipal authorities. Anonymous sources don't carry much weight when you're dealing with serious public safety concerns, such as crime, that you've raised. Terri Buchner spoke with a Carrboro PD captain that couldn't recall any problems in Carrboro either on a bus or at a bus stop. You've publicly questioned the safety of our CHT buses and bus stops and I'm challenging you to defend those accusations with some hard facts, not anonymous sources. Until you do those I'm going to consider your statements as simple (and hopefully ineffective) fear-mongering. If you provide such a report I will gladly use this blog to apologize to you in big bold letters.

Having some police officers say they don't think evening routes would be a good idea is QUITE different than saying "a significant part of the crime in Carrboro took place on and around the buses and bus stops."

FWIW, I'm not very enthusiastic about trying to replicate Texas programs. So far, they haven't proven to be very effective for North Carolina.

Ahh, the "transit and crime" canard.

In addition to the resources I've already listed above, there is a downloadable tool provided by Florida DOT to search the National Transit Database from 1984 to 2002. The tool is 120 MB, but you can download it here.


I did a quick search on all crime variables for Chapel Hill Transit for that 18-year period. From a data perspective, crime is organized into "In Vehicle," "In Station" and "In Transit Property-Other." Locally, I assume these can be translated as "on the bus," "nonexistent"- (CHT has no stations) or "at the operations center."

According to the NTD, in those 18 years, there is no record of a single violent crime (assault, rape, murder, etc) on Chapel Hill Transit.

There are 3 instances of theft on the bus (2001), 1 instance of in-vehicle vandalism (2001) and 1 instance of disorderly conduct. (1999)

In 2001, there are also 13 incidents of motor vehicle theft that occurred "on the bus." Of course, this makes no sense and probably refers to a rash of theft at a park-and-ride lot.

There are 104 incidences of stolen transit property, which sounds like college kids collecting bus stop signs as dormroom decorations.

In 2000, there were 30 incidences of transit patron property being stolen at "Other" locations. This sounds like theft from cars at park-and-lots. Perhaps there was a re-categorization of park-and-ride related crime between 2000 and 2001. There were also 7 crimes that are most likely trespassing, theft, and vandalism at the Operations center.

In sum, the count is 174 crimes between 1984 and 2002. If you exclude theft of and theft from cars at park-and-ride lots, which most likely take place when there are no buses full of witnesses around, the count is 126 crimes.

In that same 18 years, CHT carried over 47 million passengers. Using the 174 number, that's 1 crime per every 270,114 passengers. If you don't use a car to get to CHT, which is likely for residents since most park-riders are from out of town, the rate is 1 crime per every 373,016 passengers. And don't forget that of the 126, 104 are incidents of theft of transit property. (82.5%)

So, to summarize, if these data are correct, then assuming you ride the bus 10 times a day every day, 365 days a year, there's a good chance that some time in the next 102 years, you will indeed experience ONE crime! What's worse, there's an 82% chance that you're the criminal.

With the CHT crime spree you described it's no wonder some people might be afraid to ride the buses. Thanks for setting the record straight. :)

I will talk to the officers in question, get them to report their specific concerns, and ask them if I can quote them on the record. I'll happily report back. FWIW, Terry's source declined to speak on the record as well.

Terry, point taken. I'm merely suggesting that people with simliar goals can see differing solutions.

Well, I was going to hold forth on the whole "crime ridden transit"(sic) business, but I think Patrick's about said it all---and far more persuasively than I, one might add, but...

Just a couple of additional observations: Using the Carrboro experience to try to bolster the argument that "transit brings crime" is simply unsupportable: the only problems we have experienced center around unsavory activity---to call it 'crime' is a stretch---panhandling, drinking, 'hanging out', and were a localized issue at the Abbey Court stop, and were a result of neighborhood problems spilling over into the public realm(namely the bus stop), not the converse. This was the result of some issues that resulted from ineffective property management, combined with absentee landlords who were not maintaining, or providing proper security for their property.

While not trouble free, the PD has been working diligently with management, and the problems have largely subsided.

Even granting that the above activities have occurred at the aforementioned bus stop, in many years of using CHT fairly frequently, I've never had any significant problem at a stop, and not even an unpleasant moment (aside from the long-suffering mom with the kids who always seem to be in the seat behind you on a cross-country airline flight) on the bus itself. In contrast, I challenge anyone to walk down Franklin Street after 7pm without being hit by at least 3 panhandlers (in my experience, the median is 4). I guess the only real solution is to slide up the windows, crank up the AC, and step on the gas.

Strained humour aside, rather than a 'crime' problem, I would suggest that the above has more to do with the sorry state of our mental-health and social-service infrastructure---but I digress...

In addition to those mentioned, there is also a "J" Safe Ride late night route, which runs thru both downtowns, out to the Smith Level compexes, and circles back up Merritt Mill. As the regular 'J' route is the most heavily used in the system, I have ridden this route, and found it heavily used as well, and found the population to belie intimations above that late-night service is some sort of frivolous 'party-bus' sop to undergraduate hedonism (my phrasing): Rather, you will see workers in the restaurant and entertainment industries coming off shift; folks coming home from a late night at the lab, laptops in tow; and, yes, folks who have enjoyed, and contributed to, our vibrant evening economy.

I could go on, but I think I'll heed Ruby's advice about those looooong posts.


So Alex,
As someone who rides the bus and has ridden it safely at night, would you be interested in increasing night service, even if it costs an additional 10% over what you already pay in transportation taxes?



Community Guidelines

By using this site, you agree to our community guidelines. Inappropriate or disruptive behavior will result in moderation or eviction.


Content license

By contributing to OrangePolitics, you agree to license your contributions under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

Creative Commons License

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.