Changes to free Bull City Connector could cost some riders | Durham County | Indy Week
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Changes to free Bull City Connector could cost some riders 

Earlier this summer I met with two leaders of Blacknall Memorial Presbyterian Church about its parking difficulties in the Durham's Ninth Street District.

"Where did you park?" asked one of the men as I arrived.

"I didn't. I rode the Bull City Connector."

I admit, I felt a little sanctimonious (fitting, since I was standing near the church sanctuary), but the bus between Golden Belt, downtown and the Duke Medical Center and West Campus is a major amenity for those of us who hate being saddled with our cars.

The BCC is free, subsidized by the city of Durham and Duke University. Sometimes I take it from downtown to Ninth Street then back to the main bus station to connect with the No. 10, which takes me home.

But as of Aug. 15, that connection will no longer be possible because of major routing changes to the BCC. Some of them are good (the bus will run more frequently) and some of them are bad (the BCC bypasses the main station and still doesn't extend more deeply into East Durham).

The lowdown: The bus will now hew to Main Street almost the entire way, with no stops at the main station, parts of Erwin Road and the curlicue detour to Morris Street. I understand some of that logic, especially regarding the last two stops, where I rarely see anyone get on or get off the bus. And I also understand the awkwardness of swinging the bus under the Chapel Hill Street bridge to get to the station. The drivers should receive hazard pay for that maneuver.

No longer stopping at the station will likely irritate the 47 percent of riders who recently rated the connections between the BCC and other buses as excellent; that's down from 56 percent who approved of them in 2011.

It will outrage the 53 percent of riders who think the connections suck.

"These kinds of distinct negative changes are unusual," reads the recent passenger satisfaction report. "They tend to occur either when service is really deteriorating or when the service, for whatever reason, has begun to attract ridership with somewhat higher employment and income levels, and who are less transit dependent, and more ready to complain."

Or perhaps the reason is that Durham's bus system, while vastly improved over the past five years, is still clunky. For some riders, this BCC change will make it extremely difficult to connect to the main bus system; only a few of those routes also run along Main Street.

I can walk from Five Points, the closest stop to the main station. But because of downtown's asinine loop, people with disabilities cannot safely make that journey across Ramseur, particularly those in wheelchairs, on canes and on walkers, and the blind.

GoDurham has assured us that other routes can meet riders' needs: The No. 6, for example, runs to the Medical Center. However, that bus is not free, and even a discounted round trip is burdensome for riders whose households earn less than $15,000 a year.

Which brings me to East Durham, home to a large number of low-income residents: On a recent morning, I took the No. 2B, which runs part of the same eastern route as the BCC, to the Holton Career and Resource Center, where I spoke to a summer camp for developmentally challenged teenagers.

I had no problem getting there, but the return trip would have required me to wait an hour for a bus. I decided walking to Golden Belt (ninth-tenths of a mile) would still get me downtown more quickly than heading up to Holloway (five-tenths of a mile) and waiting for the No. 3.

If your mind is boggled, remember, bus riders make these kinds of calculations every day. Yes, it's better than driving, but the BCC still falls short of its potential to get more people out of their cars.

  • The route will run more frequently, but could penalize the neediest passengers

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