By Gregory DL Morris
Regional bus system GoTriangle has increased service at Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU), due to start in August 2024. The expanded hours and frequency are part of a broader growth plan for several of the area bus systems. GoTriangle recently completed a series of on-line surveys and live pop-up events around the region, including one on the UNC campus November 2.
Chapel Hill and Carrboro do not have direct service to RDU. Riders connect via the 800 Route serving the UNC campus and town via Raleigh Road and Interstate 40 to the RDU Shuttle at the Regional Transit Center in Morrisville, south of the airport.
Routes 800 and RDU Shuttle operate every 30 minutes before 6:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; after 6:30 p.m Monday through Saturday. On Sundays, passengers can take Route 800 and Route 100 to reach the airport once an hour. The ride has taken about an hour and a half the two times that this reporter has taken the bus from RDU to Chapel Hill.
The Wake County Transit Plan includes additional funding for the RDU Shuttle to operate every 30 minutes Monday through Friday until 9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday until 7 p.m., according to GoTriangle. The communications office declined to arrange an interview, but did provide written responses to questions.
“At this time, the Orange County Transit Plan does not include funding for more frequent service on Route 800,” GoTriangle wrote. “Changes to the route in Durham to improve on-time performance are being considered for the August 2024 service change.”
People in Chapel Hill frequently have trouble getting reliable public transportation to the airport. There are three counties, each with its own funding plan; there are also four transit systems that, while they collaborate, each has its own priorities.
Ridership has been modest. “Before the pandemic in April 2019, there were approximately 90 average weekday boardings at the two stops serving the airport on route 100, which served the airport at all times in 2019,” wrote GoTriangle. “In April of 2023, there were approximately 75 average weekday boardings at the two stops serving RDU airport.”
“We expect that ridership to the airport will continue to recover to pre-pandemic levels within the next 12-18 months as we and other transit operators continue to restore and expand bus service,” GoTriangle wrote. “The implementation of additional service on the RDU shuttle is contingent on bus-operator availability, which is something all agencies, including GoTriangle, continue to deal with.”
Real-time information availability is also a challenge. The on-line trip planner at www.gotriangle.org, is helpful. But GoTriangle’s text system for current wait times is not working.
“Our text messaging service has been disrupted by upgrades to the on-vehicle equipment that tracks bus locations,” GoTriangle wrote. “We are working to fix the text messaging service. GoTriangle continues to work with the vendor to improve reliability of the system. Our regional information center at 919-485-RIDE is well staffed to answer questions and help customers plan their trips.”
General-purpose transit apps are also useful for GoTriangle buses. The signs at the airport bus stops do not mention the RDU Shuttle, only Route 100.
At the pop-up event on campus, a GoTriangle representative indicated that an increase in frequency on the 800 Route would be desirable, but that funding would have to be part of the planning process from one of the three counties.
The official response from GoTriangle regarding further enhancement of service between Chapel Hill and RDU was, “We are constantly evaluating ways to expand transit services, including to the airport. We meet on a regular basis with RDU to discuss ways to improve access for airport employees, customers, and visitors. Currently, there is no funding identified for new routes to the airport.”
Gregory DL Morris is a business journalist and historian who reports regularly for TLR.