All aboard!

How do riders like the city’s $1 million bus station?

During a recent Mountain Xpress on-the-spot survey one Friday afternoon, the answer seemed to depend on whether the rider’s bus was running on time.

“Phhht!” exclaimed Margaret Bishop with displeasure, when asked what she thought of the new station.

The station — relocated this past July from Pritchard Park to Aston Street — sports a long covered area where eight city buses can load and unload passengers simultaneously.

This all-at-once approach — called a full-pulse system — has gained in popularity elsewhere in country because it reduces the waiting time for transfers, usually allowing riders to catch their next bus within minutes, says Operations Supervisor David Hicks.

But Bishop’s Tunnel Road bus was running late, and she said that’s happened far too often since the new station opened. With her arms crossed, Bishop added that the Asheville Transit Authority “is trying to hide us from the tourists,” by relocating the terminal from a central downtown location to its new spot next to the Post Office.

A fellow rider who works downtown pitched in that she now has to leave work early and hustle down Coxe Avenue to catch the on-the-hour-only route to her east Asheville home.

Darla Porter and Tommy Moody agreed. They, too, were waiting to catch the east-Asheville bus — which was late today.

“The new station — it’s a big disappointment,” said Moody. As a wind gusted through the station, he pointed up at the station’s high canopy, with its radiant-heat units attached underneath, ready for use in the winter. “This isn’t protection from the elements,” he declared.

And one bus driver — who asked to remain anonymous — reported that some regular elderly riders have said they preferred Pritchard Park because it was closer to shops and apartments and, explained the driver, made “you feel like you belong in Asheville.”

But senior citizen Donna McCorkle saw it all differently. As she relaxed on a bench waiting on her bus, she remarked, “This is good. I won’t get wet.” With her car in the shop — and being old enough that, in her own words, she’s “done gone over and turned back” — McCorkle expects to become a regular customer.

A group of Asheville High students that included Akiba Plummer and Timothy Martin — whose bus to Hillcrest arrived on time — also praised the new station. “It’s good,” said Martin, “because they call out the bus numbers, so you can tell when your bus is about to come.” But the terminal needs more seats, he said, looking around at the facility’s four double-sided benches — which were all occupied by waiting riders.

“I like it because there aren’t any pigeons,” Plummer tossed in. The birds, apparently, haven’t followed bus riders from the Pritchard Park location. And neither have some of the folks with nothing to do. According to Hicks, “Our elderly and female riders feel safer, because there’s not so much riffraff hanging around here all day as there was at Pritchard Park.” He pointed to the station’s video cameras, which operate 24 hours a day, even when Transit Authority staff aren’t manning the on-site office.

Hicks mentioned another improvement: Riders can purchase tickets and monthly passes, pick up schedules, and ask for information from a dispatcher who is on duty at the terminal on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The facility also has public restrooms, and it will soon have public telephones, said Hicks. And it might even get a soda machine.

Some riders have complained about the new bus schedule, which has buses coming and going on the hour (a few routes run on the half-hour as well, such as the Hillcrest and Montford runs). To this, Hick responded, “Right now, we’re in the midst of a change. We used to have quarter-after-the-hour service [at Pritchard Park], but that’s an outdated system.” Riders routinely had to wait 45 minutes for their next connection, he said, resulting in the park being almost always packed with people.

He gestured toward the now near-empty station, just minutes after seven buses pulled out carrying their riders. “The station is only full just a few minutes before and after each pickup. After that, it’s pretty empty,” Hicks said.

“This will take people some getting used to, but it’s really to their benefit when the buses all arrive together,” he said.

And, he added, Transit Authority staff are working with city traffic engineers to establish some new downtown bus stops near banks, stores and residences for the elderly. In the meantime, “you can still get on the bus downtown. Riders don’t have to walk down here [to catch a bus],” Hicks said.

As the last few recently arrived riders left the station, a Transit Authority employee was cleaning the bathroom and preparing to lock up. Hicks checked a few more things before he, too, left for the day. The main thing, he said, is “educating people to the new system and giving them time to get used to it.”

For information about bus routes, schedules and fees, call 253-5691.

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About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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