CLEVELAND — When the new Johnston County Express (JCX) bus line arrived at the Cleveland Walmart on N.C. 42 at 6 p.m., one lone passenger disembarked.
Though a minivan could have handled early ridership on the route that started Dec. 16, transportation officials say they expect use to ramp up as awareness grows and I-40 construction intensifies.
The route was one of several implemented to handle the narrowing of I-40 and I-440 during the rebuild of the southern Beltline. The capacity reduction is expected to adversely affect traffic and commute times; about 110,000 cars per day use the I-40 corridor.
The park-and-ride express from Cleveland to downtown Raleigh is meant to give Johnston County drivers an alternative, one that can use the I-40 shoulder to bypass any bumper-to-bumper traffic. Other routes including ones stretching into Clayton – will be added perhaps by late summer 2014, and experts hope at least 10 percent of drivers heading north to Raleigh on I-40 will bus or carpool to reduce drive-times and headaches.
But the JCX roll-out has been intentionally slow.
“This is a soft start, to make sure timing is right on the route, location we’ve selected suitable,” Brad Schulz of Triangle Transit said. “Feedback has been very positive. I keep hearing ‘when are you coming to Clayton?’”
The state Department of Transportation said an average of 14.3 riders per day used the commuter service in the first 10 days of operation.
“We do expect a significant increase when everyone returns to work next (from the holidays),” said Phillip Vereen, NCDOT regional assistant director of mobility development.
The service will be free until the end of January. After that the standard $2.50 express fare will be in place – a total of $5 for a 32-mile round trip. For a vehicle getting 21 miles per gallon, that equals the cost of gas at $3.28 per gallon.
Schulz noted that routes typically takes two or three months for a new route to realize its potential. He also said people are slow to change travel habits in general. When there’s a 5 to 10-percent increase in gas prices, he said, a public transit ridership increase follows – four-to-six weeks later.
It may be late summer before forces that could really alter habits emerge. The current road work on I-440 from the I-40 junction in Southeast Raleigh up to U.S. 64 does not directly affect the path to downtown from the south. But when the part of I-40 making up the southern beltline is torn up, ridership patterns could change. An already crowded commute could turn into one that has people scurrying for options.
The JCX would allow riders to bypass any stand-still traffic, a practice already in place on I-40 on the west side of Raleigh. Rules stipulate that if traffic flows less than 35 mph, the bus can travel on the shoulder, keeping within 15 miles per hour of traveling speed of the cars on the highway.
Schulz also pointed out that Triangle Transit has put together an emergency ride home program. If a commuter or his/her child become sick or if some other emergency arrives necessitating going home before evening commute buses are available, Triangle Transit will provide a taxi or rental car ride.
Triangle Transit also has planned a major awareness campaign to get word out about the service.
Six buses leave the Cleveland Walmart parking lot each morning, one every half hour from 6 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. The schedule estimates a 45-minute trip to Edenton St. at Wilmington St. and another five minutes to Moore Square. Six buses leave Raleigh to arrive back in Johnston County half-hourly between 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.
There are also three reverse-commute buses each way, from Raleigh to Cleveland in the morning and vice versa at night.
Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland