New bus routes a mixed bag of results

Published 9:21 pm Monday, February 23, 2015

After about six months in service, two new public bus routes in the North Suffolk area are seeing mixed results.

The gold route, which has only three stops, is performing better than expected in terms of ridership, according to numbers from the city. Meanwhile, the blue route, which goes through several residential and business communities in the North Suffolk community, has started out slowly but is improving.

“The gold route is doing very well,” said L.J. Hansen, assistant director of public works. “We’re pleasantly surprised with where it is, to be honest.”

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But, he added, “The blue route is not performing where we would like it to be.”

Both routes were added in August after several years of requests from residents in the area.

The gold route has only three stops, all of which are meant to connect North Suffolk riders to other areas.

The route stops at the North Suffolk Library to connect to the blue route, at the downtown transfer center to connect to the four downtown-area routes, and near Chesapeake Square at the location of the old K-Mart to connect to the Hampton Roads Transit system.

Suffolk ended its relationship with Hampton Roads Transit in 2011 as a money-saving move. It formed its own routes, in partnership with Virginia Regional Transit, in 2012.

The gold route opened with 400 riders in August and has maintained that level since, according to an update report sent from City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn to City Council members. It had a spike to about 500 in October and a dip to 360 in November.

“Its introduction has been seen as a positive development by transit riders, transportation agencies and regional planners to have had re-established transit service linking Suffolk Transit riders to the Hampton Roads region,” read the report Cuffee-Glenn sent.

As for the blue route, its ridership has not been what was hoped, but it is increasing.

It opened in August with 158 riders for the month, but it has increased slowly. November saw 211 riders.

“While the number of riders is lower (than) what was anticipated at opening, the trend is positive and there are indications that it will continue to increase,” reads the report Cuffee-Glenn sent to the City Council members.

The report also states that the city does not believe the service to be well known in the community. Suffolk has taken steps, such as purchasing ad space on the outside of the buses and sending a flier to all addresses in the 23435 ZIP code in November, to inform people of the service.

“One really encouraging spot in the development of the Blue Line is something that we did not predict, and that is the excitement that the business and development community have expressed in our North Suffolk expansion,” read the report.

Hansen said the blue route is an area that has never before received service — the gold route was formerly served briefly by HRT thanks to a federal grant — so it takes more time to develop knowledge and usage of the service in the community.

“We’d really like to see a few more people give it a shot,” he said. “There’s just not enough people that know it’s there and know where it goes.”

The report stated the city has received requests to put shelters at some of the more frequently used stops, which it has not yet done because the new routes are a pilot program.

“It is our intent to continue to monitor the growth in that corridor and to find ways to make the Blue Route (an) engine for economic development as well as a means of transportation,” read the report.

The blue route goes by the North Suffolk Library, several apartment complexes and residential neighborhoods, four shopping areas and two health care complexes.

Cuffee-Glenn’s report to City Council was initiated by a request from Councilman Roger Fawcett, who said he doesn’t see very many people using the service. He wondered if it could be cut to save money.

“I’ve seen several times where the bus was running and there was nobody in the bus,” he said. “If it’s not really doing what we intended it to do, why are we wasting money? I’m always looking to see what makes sense, what doesn’t and where we can save a little bit of money. We’ve got a lot on the table coming up this year.”

For more information on the routes, visit