Sure, the consultants from HDR Engineering, the company helping draft Asheville’s new Transit Master Plan, are experts. That’s why the Raleigh-based firm is on the job. But get a roomful of regular bus riders together, as the city did on April 2, and you find out quick who the real experts are.
A hundred or so people, most of whom ride Asheville city buses on a regular basis, showed up at a public forum staged by HDR and the city’s Transit Department in the Asheville Civic Center’s banquet hall to hear some of the consultants’ preliminary suggestions.
Most changes, noted consultant Robert Bush, reflect increased demand: More riders means more service. For instance, he explained, the firm recommends evening service for all routes, based on the increase in evening ridership. And the idea of running some routes every 30 minutes instead of every hour went over well with the group. (A full list of proposed changes can be viewed at mountainx.com/xpressfiles.)
Other considerations come into play though, including funding. And some additional service necessitates cutting back on other less-ridden routes. For instance, Bush said, some routes may get Sunday service, while others have Saturday service removed.
But the rubber met the road when attendees were asked to pore over proposed route maps and write down their suggestions. Each of four tables, representing north, south, east and west Asheville, were surrounded by regular riders who displayed intimate knowledge of route maps and bus stop locations.
“What you have to remember,” said interim transit director Mariate Echeverry, “is most of these people ride the bus every day. They know.”
And there was some concern about the removal of bus stops on some routes that include apartment complexes where riders live.
At this point the master plan is still very much in flux, Bush told Xpress. This meeting was to gather even more public reaction to suggestions, and the consultants will take the results back to Raleigh for more tinkering. An actual draft of the master plan is expected to go before Asheville City Council sometime this summer, which could then make changes of its own. And even then, implementation won’t be instantaneous, with the less-expensive changes probably taking place sooner and others taking up to three years to put in place.