It's been almost eighteen months since word first came out of a free downtown bus connector/circulator service intended to link downtown and Duke's campus.
And while there's been fretting that tight municipal budgets would put the idea on ice, it's clearly had support from elected officialdom -- standing out, for instance, as being just about the only new service listed in this year's budget guidelines for approval.
Now comes word that the circulator is officially on for summer, just in time for Duke's back-to-school days... something most appropriate given the university's support for the capital expense to buy hybrid buses to eventually run the service, and Duke's promise of ongoing operating support for the service.
Last week, the N&O noted, the check from Duke was cut and ready to go. And this week, a Duke news office press release announces the March launch of the service.
It's designed to provide free, fast, "last-mile" connectivity through Durham's core, from Main St. at Golden Belt west through downtown, past Brightleaf Square and Ninth Street until turning up Erwin Rd. and terminating on Trent Dr. near Duke South (which itself provides quick connectivity to both West Campus and the hospital.)
Service will run from 7am until midnight Mondays through Saturdays. Buses will arrive at stops every 15 minutes from 7am-6pm weekdays, and on 20 minute headways the rest of the time.
As we noted here when the concept was first announced, the campus-city connection is important -- but by no means the only value of the service, with the connector providing big benefits to everyday transit riders, too.
Given that Duke represents the largest employer in Durham, there's plenty of traffic that transfers in to Durham Station from peripheral lines and needs to make the connection to Duke's campus. The arrival of the circulator will provide more frequent connectivity along this core spine, reducing the impact of missed bus connections, for instance.
It also promises to be a boon for neighborhoods like in walking distance to the connector, whose residents will be steps from a free way to get around Durham for their daily needs.
We've long said at BCR that to be successful, transit service needs to be more frequent so as to take away the schedule uncertainty that comes from today's bus service -- especially if you're having to contemplate the impact of missing one bus and waiting a half-hour for the next one. That's something that vanishes in a world where the Connector runs.
Look for the DATA fleet to start operating the route in August, with six dedicated buses coming online for the service in late 2011 or early 2012.