Regional Transit System (RTS) staff plan to launch two new, limited-stop routes in the fall that would target key stops and attract riders without adding extra costs or equipment.
Krys Ochia, transit planning manager for RTS, explained the routes at a public meeting on Tuesday and said the plan responds to community feedback and transit studies.
He called the new routes a major change in the RTS system, but the project still needs final approval by the Gainesville City Commission.
“What we’re trying to do is make the route as attractive as possible to compete with someone who wants to drive their vehicle,” Ochia said.
The new Compass Routes would cover just under 16 miles of road and include only 12 stops.
The two routes will pass more than 50 bus stops on the way to their destinations and use UF Health Shands Hospital as a transfer point.
- North-South Route
- North Walmart Supercenter
- Gainesville High School/ Lux 13 Apartments
- Tigert Hall at UF
- UF Health Shands Hospital
- Two residential stops new Bivens Arm
- Meridian Behavioral Healthcare (just south of SW Williston Avenue)
- East-West Route
- Alachua County Health Department (off of SE Hawthorne Road)
- Rosa Parks Station at Depot Park
- UF Health Shands Hospital
- Residential stop near University Commons on SW Archer Road
- Butler Plaza Transfer Station
The routes closely follow those proposed in a study for a Bus Rapid Transit System. Ochia said RTS lacks the capacity for that system, however the limited stop proposal is closer to it than the current system of routes.
More stops make routes less attractive so RTS had to be selective. One potential stop not included in the North-South route is at the intersection of NW 13th Street and NW 39th Avenue.
If the line includes too many stops though, it fails to keep the name limited-stop route.
Ochia said RTS wants to make the Compass Routes distinctive and a major component of the plan is attracting new customers—an emphasis of the Federal Transit Administration.
In 2019, RTS had its best year on record. Route 13 recorded 382,559 riders—up 40,000 from the previous year. But the route only carried 257,465 people in 2020 and 87,645 in 2021.
The ridership of Route 1 dropped from 537,313 to 232,485 between 2019 and 2021.
RTS hopes these limited-stop routes will bring back lost riders.
If approved by the Gainesville City Commission, the Compass Routes project will not need additional funding or equipment. RTS plans to remove seven buses from their current routes in order to service the new ones.
Routes 1, 8 and 20 would lose two buses each from circulation while Route 13 would lose one bus. The losses will increase wait times at those routes.
The new north-south route will use four buses while the east-west route uses the other three with wait times varying from 20 minutes to 40 minutes.
Ochia hopes the lack of upfront cost helps the project get approval. If the Compass Routes fail to gain traction, RTS could always reverse back to the current system without any invested capital.
If the Compass Routes take off, RTS can build up the 12 stops and make them even more attractive, according to Ochia.
All the proposed stops are already ADA approved except for one, which will receive approval by the time the Compass Routes come online.
The project will head to the Citizens Advisory Board on May 25, and Ochia said the item will be brought before the city commission in June.
With a greenlight from the commission, RTS would hope to start the routes in August.
Another proposed change that will be brought to both the board and the commission is the combination of Routes 24 and 27.
Ochia said both routes fail to attract customers, so RTS plans to combine them into a new route that services a similar area. The new route won’t go as far to the north or east as Route 24 currently does. Instead, it will stay more centralized where ridership is higher.
RTS will hold a public meeting about combining the routes on April 27 at 6 p.m. at the Alachua County Health Department.