City: Lash Drive bus service not as easy as it sounds

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Mark Wineka
Extending city bus service to Lash Drive residents isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Salisbury City Council learned that Tuesday when it received a staff report looking at what would be involved in costs, route changes and state approval to serve the Lash Drive area beyond Salisbury Mall.
Residents on Lash Drive, which includes two apartment complexes, a nursing home and two senior communities, have petitioned the city to extend bus service to their street.
Mary M. Adams, one of the petition organizers, has estimated that some 500 families could benefit from the bus service, which has always looked for more riders.
Salisbury Transit service extends as far west as the Salisbury Mall, leaving the Lash Drive residents about a mile short of the mall’s stop.
“This is more complicated than just going an extra mile,” City Manager Dave Treme said.
Rodney Harrison, head of Salisbury Transit, said sending service to Lash Drive would cost between $144,731 and $180,914 in the first year, depending on whether the city obtained state and federal assistance for the expansion.
The bus system’s overall budget is supported by state, federal and local dollars.
Harrison said the best option the city had would be to include an expansion to Lash Drive as part of a five-year Community Transportation Plan that must be approved by the state. How long it would take the state to approve that plan is unknown, but Harrison said Salisbury “is currently a top priority.”
If the city went ahead without the five-year plan and on its own added a new route ó the best way to expand the service to Lash Drive ó the city’s costs would be greater, Harrison warned.
Harrison and Public Services Director Tony Cinquemani went over the strengths and weaknesses of expanding service to include Lash Drive.
Strengths (taking for granted that the transit system would add a fourth route) would include more convenient service, more frequent stops at existing destinations, the creation of a few more jobs and improving Route No. 2’s on-time performance.
Monday-Saturday service to include Lash Drive would add 57,000 miles and 19,000 gallons of gas a year.
The city currently has three bus routes. A fourth route would lessen the burden on Route 2 by taking in the mall and Lash Drive areas.
The potential hurdles to expanding the service include the additional funds needed, reducing the life expectancy of buses and the number of spare buses, increasing maintenance costs, putting more demands on mechanics, making significant route adjustments, marketing the changes, turning around on Lash Drive and requiring a new transfer site and shelter.
At one point, Harrison estimated that a five-year plan through the state, which would include a Lash Drive expansion, could take two to four years to complete.
Treme later said the city possibly could visit the transportation specialists in Raleigh and lobby for action on a plan sooner, maybe within six to 12 months.
Treme said the city doesn’t want to withhold service from citizens who need it.
Several council members seemed taken aback by how difficult it seemed to extend current service to a street just beyond the mall.
“This seems like a lot of dollars to go a couple blocks,” Mayor Pro Tem Paul Woodson said.
Councilmen Mark Lewis and William “Pete” Kennedy asked why the existing Route 2, which serves the mall, could not be expanded. Or couldn’t Lash Drive be made a higher priority than destinations the bus service is now going, Lewis asked.
Harrison said one problem is that Route 2 as it is configured now already has problems staying on time. Treme said the addition of Lash Drive would really throw the entire bus schedule off. At the end of the day, Treme added, the city also has to figure out how to pay for an expansion, and the state has to be on board with any changes.
Fixed routes and fixed schedules are the most important aspects of bus service ó reliability has to be foremost, Treme said.
Councilman Bill Burgin said what appeared to be simple on the surface is a lot more complicated than the council thought. Mayor Susan Kluttz said the matter was frustrating because “we want ridership to be up.”
“The need is great,” Treme agreed. “Nobody’s denying the need is great.”