A year after AppalCART made the biggest changes to its routes in more than a decade, the changes going into 2019 are described as “little tweaks” by Director Craig Hughes.
The big change will be the implementation of the new “Night Owl” route in the fall. Express, Gold, Orange and Pop 105 routes will now run from 10 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Thursdays and Fridays and from 6 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Saturdays.
According to Hughes, Pop 105 and Gold routes will stay the same for the night schedule while Express and Orange routes will have minor changes for the night schedule.
“It benefits the town to have routes running late,” Hughes said. “People working ‘til 11-12 (p.m.) have a way to get home safely and there’s safe transportation for students going to Walmart who need to get back to campus.”
The route changes will be implemented when the fall semester starts on Aug. 20. The program, requested by the ASU Student Government Association, is made possible by a $181,120 pilot program grant.
In Blowing Rock, the return of the school year will mean the Blowing Rock Route will change to being Saturday only from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Oct. 28.
For 2019-20, one of the bigger changes will be an extension of the Purple Route, which serves southern Boone, until 8:10 p.m. (formerly 6:02 p.m.)
“People are still coming off campus that late,” Hughes said of the Purple Route changes.
In the first year of the route overhauls, AppalCART ridership climbed by a couple thousand, Hughes said, to around 1.82 million for the 2018-19 fiscal year. Previously, ridership dropped in 2017-18 after reaching a peak of 1.9 million in 2016-17.
“We’re pleased with that,” Hughes said of the ridership numbers. “One of the things is that a lot of our (current) routes used to be separate routes that were combined into a single cross-town route, which cut down on some trips.”
For the Express Route, the “night” schedule, which includes the Village at Meadowview and Greenway Drive, will now start at 8 p.m (formerly 6 p.m.) Also, the Express route will now serve Pride Drive and Applebee’s and is extended to now end at 10 p.m. at Peacock Circle.
Hughes said the Express Route changes will help keep the buses on schedule at night, which he said was a problem in 2018-19.
Changes to the State Farm shuttle include no more Saturday service, no more Peacock Circle service and the route won’t serve the Greenwood lot or Appalachian Heights.
The Wellness District route that started in 2018-19 to service the recently-completed Levine Hall of Health Sciences will cut out Blowing Rock Road and headways will be changed from 10 to 15 minutes. Hughes said the route was hard to keep on schedule in 2018-19.
Additional changes to Pop 105, Orange, Green, Red and Silver routes dealt with the extension of some routes and renaming of routes, Hughes added.
The 105 Lot Shuttle, Gold Route and Blue Route won’t have any changes in 2019-20.
Altogether, Hughes said the wholesale changes implemented in 2018-19 were successful, he said.
“It definitely made a positive impact,” Hughes said. “It was an adjustment at first for drivers, passengers and students.”
Going forward, Hughes said there’s still a need to expand routes and add more buses. At a July 23 meeting of the Watauga County Commissioners, the board approved submitting a proposal on behalf of AppalCART for 10 buses in the amount of $5 million, to the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Strategic Transportation Improvement Plan. The program identifies transportation needs that may receive state funding if approved.
“For us to get an expansion of vehicles added into our fleet, we have to go through (NCDOT’s) data-driver process,” Hughes said. “Hopefully the project will score high enough to get those buses.”
Hughes said if approved, the buses would arrive in “two to three years.”