HARRISONBURG — The Harrisonburg Department of Public Transportation has made changes to make transportation routes quicker and easier to understand for James Madison University staff and students.
According to HDPT Transit Superintendent Avery Daugherty, the HDPT contracted a consultant group in the fall of 2018 to figure out how to serve the community more efficiently.
After a year of planning out the changes, the main change will include switching the JMU bus routes from a number system to a color system.
“We only have a limited number of buses and we couldn’t get new buses instantly so we needed to find an efficient way with having the same resources,” Daugherty said in an interview Tuesday.
Currently, city routes are numbered 1-6 while the JMU routes are numbered from 11 to 23.
“What used to be even more complicated was that for special events, such as graduation or football games, we would have color lines instead of numbers,” Daugherty said.
Although the routes won’t change, Daugherty said distinguishing the numbers versus colors will make it easier for people to know which route they are taking.
Another change that will take effect once JMU’s fall semester begins on Aug. 26 will be the frequency of transportation service.
In past years, certain days had certain bus schedules for JMU.
On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, a bus came to campus every 15 minutes. On Tuesday and Thursday it took 12-13 minutes.
“It was inconsistent and harder to understand,” Daugherty said. “If it were a Tuesday and you were looking at a Monday schedule, you would be very confused.”
Now, the average time for someone waiting on campus for a bus will be every five minutes, Daugherty said.
“For apartment routes, it will depends on the apartment,” he said. “Most of the buses will serve apartments every 15 minutes, although others will take longer.”
The yellow line wait average for a bus will be around 24 minutes while the gray line is once every 30 minutes, according to Daugherty.
To check out the routes, visit www.hdpt.com/color or view the new color line system map to see all HDPT options around the area. A app called MyStop is also available for riders to have real-time information on routes nearest them.
He said his hope is to have people not rely on a schedule because the transportation is so frequent they won’t need a schedule.
Although there wasn’t a swelling number of complaints from students or staff because many adapted and learned the schedule, Daugherty said with the campus changes, HDPT needed to make changes as well.
“With the increased number of parking decks, especially with the new Atlantic Bank Center, which opens in 2020, there are already 1,000 parking spots dedicated to commuter students,” he said. “If we didn’t change, we would see ridership decline and an increase in city traffic because more people would be driving.”
HPDT also added a shuttle that will service the downtown area on Saturday evenings from 7 p.m. to 1:21 a.m.
The shuttle will make stops at the Godwin Transit Center and locations along Bluestone Drive in addition to completing a loop around the entire downtown going north to the City Produce Exchange building to Noll Drive, according to a city press release.
Daugherty said depending on the route, some Saturday evening shuttles will go past 1:21 a.m. Sunday, such as the Blue line, which will run until 2:08 a.m.
“The goal for the city is to increase ridership despite people having more transportation options,” Daugherty said. “We want to be the bridge to people’s destination and make ourselves convenient enough to where they choose us over other transportation.”
He said besides the option of people deciding to drive instead of take public transit, there is also the competition of Uber and Lyft.
The electric scooters that began showing up in the city last year have not taken a toll of public transit, according to Daugherty, who said transportation numbers have not declined.
“We actually had a slight increase from last year of overall ridership,” he said. “The scooters can actually be helpful for people if there isn’t a connection and they need to get somewhere soon.”
He said one important aspect the HDPT continually focuses on is providing a safe atmosphere for people using public transit.
“We want a safe approach to where people know us and get onto a bus knowing and recognizing it’s a city employee driver,” Daugherty said. “It’s better than getting into an Uber or Lyft not knowing the driver or even driving oneself if it isn’t safe to do so.”
The HDPT is the largest city department with more than 200 employees. Of that number, more than 100 of those employees are transit operators.
“With such a large department and so many operators, we want riders to know we are a safe option for them to get back and forth to where they want to go and always get home safely,” Daugherty said. “In my opinion, I think we have some of the safest drivers in the state and the nation.”