From Kerry Giles, Director of Rutherford County Transit
I wanted to share some exciting news regarding Rutherford County Transit’s deviated fixed route, also now called the Tri City Xpress. Back in 2015, we worked with NCDOT to completed a 5-year plan for Rutherford County Transit. In that plan, was an outline to increase ridership on the deviated fixed route.
This route has been around for many years and travels through the core area of Rutherfordton, Spindale and Forest City. Up until 2015, ridership was pretty steady at around 350 trips per month. In January 2016, Transit received approval from the County Commissioners and the Transit Advisory Board to go fare-free on this route (the cost to citizens had been $1.00 to ride). Since 2016, we have seen our ridership grow to an average of 850 trips per month. That is a 143% increase!
However, even as happy as we were with the increased ridership, we knew that if we could shorten the route and travel time for our passengers, we would increase ridership. It took an hour and 45 minutes to complete a full loop. I applaud our Operations Manager, Jeff Hill, who spent countless hours trying to logistically lay out a route that could be shortened without cutting too many stops.
What he developed, we launched last month as the new Tri City Xpress. There are now 2 loops. One runs through Forest City and the other through Rutherfordton and Spindale. They have a transfer point at Walmart; as well as at Isothermal Community College and a few other stops in Spindale. We were concerned about passengers getting confused if they needed to transfer, but survey information indicated that many who were picked up in Forest City, also got off in Forest City. The same held true for the route through Rutherfordton and Spindale.
We have only been running these new loops for one month and for the month of April our ridership shot up to 1550 trips for the month! That is another 82% increase in ridership. We are confident ridership will continue to increase as more citizens become aware of our services. One of the main reasons for adding the 3 bus shelters in town was to gain visibility for this route.
Our next steps are to try and expand this route to include shuttle services along the Thermal Belt Rail Trail, possibly evenings and weekends. It is our belief that providing services for active lifestyles, may help us encourage more people to use transit.