Tired of high gas prices? Take the bus, Huntsville leaders point out

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Tired of paying nearly $4 for a gallon of gas?

Huntsville city officials want you to ride the bus for pump pain relief.

The city’s transit department has launched a “Dump the Pump & Try Transit” campaign to increase participation in its transit system, which not only includes the use of its Orbit bus system, but also a door-to-door access service and partnerships with commuters.

“It costs a lot more to fill your tank now than it did this time last year,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said. “Fortunately, Huntsville Transit has alternatives for anyone looking to put more money back in their pockets.”

Although gasoline prices have fallen in recent weeks, the average gasoline price in the Huntsville metro on July 13 was $4.22 per gallon, according to AAA. The price a year ago was $2.80.

“We offer Orbit, a fixed-route bus service, and Access, a door-to-door paratransit service,” said the mayor. “Currently, the cost of a single gallon of gas is about $4. The cost to ride Orbit is $1, even less if you’re a senior or a student.

On average, 2,300 passengers use the Orbit bus system per day, said city communications director Kelly Schrimsher. And Transit Director Quisha Bryant said ridership is growing on the 10-route system.

“We’ve seen an increase in runners,” Bryant said. “We don’t know if this is due to high gas prices or if we are seeing our ridership return (after the shutdown) due to COVID.”

Orbit is seeing increased diversity among cyclists, from students to retirees and young professionals.

Bryant said the main transfer is located downtown at 500 Church Street.

“Our buses run Monday to Friday, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.,” she said.

Bryant said people age 65 or older, those with a valid student ID, or anyone on Medicaid or Medicare can travel for a reduced fare of 50 cents. Detailed road maps are available on the Huntsville Transit website at HuntsvilleAL.gov/Transit.

“Our passengers also have the option of tracking their buses with a mobile app called Route Shout,” she said. “That way you will always know when your bus will arrive.”

Earlier this year, Huntsville Transit launched a mobile ticket purchasing app called Token Transit.

“It’s an easy way for our passengers to purchase tickets and store them on their mobile devices,” Bryant said.

Passengers simply show the ticket to the operators on their phone and take their seats.

“Our drivers are highly trained, our buses are safe, and they’re cool in the summer and warm in the winter,” Battle added.

Transit director John Autry said the buses are equipped with quick and easy bike storage.

“We’re seeing more and more bikes every day,” Autry said, noting that transit routes overlap with bike routes.

Bryant said Huntsville Transit will also increase coverage following the construction of a new downtown transfer station that will accommodate more buses and passengers. Battle said the new transit station is expected to be completed within the next two years.

The $6 million station is funded by the Federal Transportation Authority, Bryant said.

“Our documents will be auctioned soon,” she said. “We will have a general contractor by the end of the summer. Then we will start construction. Work will begin towards the end of the summer. It will probably take around 18 months to complete.

Other transportation options

Huntsville Transit also offers a door-to-door paratransit service called Access for Seniors and People with Disabilities.

“A lot of people might be more familiar with its old name Handy Ride,” Bryant said. “This service is available to people with disabilities and seniors who do not live near our fixed-route service.”

To use this service, residents must complete a certification process.

“We have our apps located on our city web page,” Bryant said. “The cost of this service is $2.”

Battle said the city has a partnership with ride-sharing companies Commute with Enterprise and CommuteSmart for people who live in Huntsville but work out of town. Commute with Enterprise offers carpools for groups of colleagues who live close to each other. Using CommuteSmart’s online database, people can also set up carpools with people who live or work nearby.

“As we grow and improve our infrastructure, we have a variety of transportation options that will be key to our success,” Battle said.

This includes improving and planning multi-modal trails for residents, including those who prefer to walk or cycle.

Plan for the future

The City is working with Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates Inc. to update its transit improvement plan. While the public comment meetings are in the planning stages, Bryant is encouraging people who use the system to complete a brief online survey.

“We are reaching out to our runners to see what they would like to see,” she said. “Are these additional routes they would like to see? Do the buses run later or earlier? Earlier in the morning or later in the evening? Sunday service?”

Bryant said the city will later engage the public at large, “cyclists or not, and get their feedback on what they think of the transit system.”

Earlier this year, the Huntsville Metropolitan Planning Organization received a recommendation from a preliminary study that includes four to six rapid transit buses along the US 72 corridor that includes stops at the University of Alabama -Huntsville, MidCity, Huntsville Hospital and Downtown and two buses for an airport express bus route.

But Bryant said the city currently has “nothing on our table.”

“We await our comments,” she said. “We’ll let that shape our plan and then we’ll put something in place and present it to the public to see if it meets the needs as well.”

Battle said the city is considering reducing carbon emissions.

“Yes, our buses run on diesel, but we are working towards a future where our public transport fleet is a mix of hybrid and electric vehicles,” the mayor said.

For more information on the city’s transit offerings and rideshare partnerships, visit HuntsvilleAL.gov/Transit.

Scott Turner is reporting from Huntsville for the Lede.

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