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My Turn, Dylan Horne: Improve, don’t eliminate Rowan Express

By Dylan Horne

The Rowan Express takes to me to and from my job as a bike mechanic at The Pedal Factory in Salisbury from my home in Kannapolis. I ride my bike 4 miles to the Kannapolis train station, where I board the bus, and I walk from the Salisbury transit stop to my workplace. I ride the Rowan Express three days a week, saving me 32 miles of bike riding along US 29 each day.

Dylan Horne. Submitted photo

To me, cutting a transit service due to low ridership during a global pandemic is regressive and short-sighted. Of course ridership is lower, as we have collectively been encouraged to stay home, and work or study remotely. Additionally, many in-person community services have been restricted during this time, decreasing demand for the bus. People were not riding to the library when it was closed to the public. We are still recovering and adapting to all the changes in our world, and eliminating the Rowan Express adds additional challenges to an already disadvantaged population. 

Transit provides transportation equity, increasing the accessibility of community services to people with transportation barriers. Oftentimes, it is not having access to a reliable car, but it can also be related to other physical and mental barriers. Many people still need the bus to be able to get to jobs, families, friends and social services across our county. Transit is the safest form of ground transportation and reduces our per-person greenhouse gas emissions. The Rowan Express empowers people with the most need to be able to get there.

Transit is often accused of not carrying its weight. Yes, the bus fare that is collected will never turn a profit for the bus service. But do the highways that pour motor vehicles onto our streets pay their share? Damaging our pavement, clogging our intersections and parking for free, we subsidize driving at every corner. We spend billions to widen the freeways, borrowing more and more from general funds as the gas tax continues to fall short.

I believe we should improve our transit service instead of canceling it for low ridership. Often the Rowan Express will arrive at the Kannapolis or Salisbury transit station just as all the local city buses are departing. Improving coordination between these services would save riders making transfers from having to wait an additional half-hour to hour for the next bus. More efficient connections makes for a more reliable and desirable bus trip. Before the pandemic, drivers were able to pick up riders along the route that would hail the bus. Allowing drivers to pick up riders outside of the designated stops again would likely increase ridership, as people could use the bus where it is most convenient. 

The Rowan Express is the only transit service for China Grove and Landis. Medicaid transit services only works for people on Medicaid, and the Rowan Individual Transportation Assistance only serves one day a week. These services will not meet our basic transportation needs. If other transit routes need more capacity, then expand capacity instead of dismantling and reallocating from the Rowan Express. 

It is clear that our transit administrators are making the convenient choice of cutting service, instead of the right decision to adapt and overcome. I challenge our transit administrators and elected officials to take a day and ride the Rowan Express to their jobs and appointments. Perhaps then they will see the human lives that depend on this service, and better understand the true cost of canceling it.

Dylan Horne earned a doctorate in civil engineering with a focus on transportation safety and serves Salisbury on the Greenway, Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee.

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