DATA standing-room experiment draws flak

Oct. 03, 2013 @ 06:17 PM

An experiment intended to create more standing room for passengers on two sometimes-overcrowded Durham Area Transit Authority routes recently sparked criticism of the system’s managers.

Triangle Transit, which operates DATA for the city, fielded complaints after removing a few rows of seats from the front of buses operating on DATA routes 3 and 5.

Critics said the move was unfriendly to older riders.

“A bus ride is not smooth, but bumpy, [with] lots of stops and jerks,” passenger Donald Hamm said in an email to the City Council. “If you’re standing and hanging on to a strap, holding your belongings for 30 minutes, it’s just not a good ride.”

Triangle Transit administrators, when questioned by city officials, responded by terming the seat removals “a temporary pilot test.”

The move came because Route 5, which runs in the Fayetteville Street corridor, is packed on weekdays during its afternoon run.

Similar problems occur on Route 3, along the Holloway Street corridor, on Sundays when buses run on reduced, one-hour headways.

“We are still evaluating whether this is the right way to address the situation,” said John Tallmadge, Triangle Transit’s director of regional services development.

Tallmadge added that Route 5 passengers could see some relief on the crowding and strap-hanger fronts come Oct. 12, when DATA adds more runs service on that line.

The extra trips will mean that a bus runs Route 5 every 15 minutes, instead of every 30 minutes, weekdays and Saturdays from noon to 6:30 p.m.

The increase in service on Route 5 is one of several such changes DATA will make soon using revenue from a half-cent sales-tax surcharge that went into effect this spring. The system also is moving to 15-minute afternoon headways on routes 1 and 10B.

Route 1 operates on the Guess Road corridor and Route 10B goes to the South Square area.

But there’s no relief from the Oct. 12 changes to Route 3 on Sundays.

The “heaviest-used route in the system,” according to Tallmadge, it’s often packed between downtown and the Village Shopping Center on North Miami Boulevard.

System managers are “evaluating whether it’s possible to leave one bus” with extra standing room “that could be used Sundays on Holloway,” and whether they have enough buses to make sure the one with missing seats “doesn’t need to be [used] elsewhere,” Tallmadge said.

Hamm was a Route 1 passenger that encountered an extra-standing-room bus because routes 3 and 1 overlap, Route 3 buses continuing from downtown onto Route 1 and vice-versa.

Long term, the agency most likely will buy buses that offer a better mix of seating and standing room, Tallmadge said.

Buses purchased as replacements or for expanded service may have floor plans like those used on the Bull City Connector, with seats facing to the interior instead of to the front, he said.

“That gives you the best of both: You get seats throughout the bus, but get more standing room in middle, and more room for people pushing strollers or shopping carts,” Tallmadge said.