(HELENA) Last January, Capital Transit, Helena’s public bus service, made a major change to its schedules. The fixed-route bus system changed from a single loop around the city to two separate routes – the north-south Red Route and the east-west Blue Route.
Capital Transit supervisor Steve Larson says there’s been a strong response from the public.
“At first it was all over the board,” he said. “Change is always interesting for folks, but I think people are settling in and liking the ability to be able to go from the north to the south, east and west, and be on a nice time schedule.”
On Tuesday, David Torgerson rode the bus downtown to watch “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” He’s been using Capital Transit and its predecessor HATS for about four years, and says the changes have made it easier for him to get around.
“I would say that I’m pretty happy with them,” he said.
Torgerson said he often travels from his neighborhood on the south side of town to Target in the north. With the previous route system, that trip would take about 45 minutes. Now, it’s closer to 25 minutes on the Red Route.
Capital Transit is currently serving about 2,300 riders a month on its Helena fixed-route buses, along with several hundred more on the East Valley on-call service. Larson said ridership fell immediately after the switch to two routes, but that it has rebounded and is now higher than before.
Leaders are hoping to further increase their number of passengers this year, after making more adjustments to the routes. Last month, they added four additional bus stops. One is on the Red Route, on Ptarmigan Lane west of Target. The others are on the Blue Route, along Glendale Street at Waukesha Avenue and the north and south sides of Euclid Avenue.
Larson said he intended to include the new stops when the two-route system launched, but more work needed to be done to bring them up to standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act. He said the stops extend both routes into more high-density neighborhoods, where the pool of potential riders will be larger.
To keep the buses running on schedule, Capital Transit also cut back service at two existing stops. The Blue Route will now stop at Carroll College only when going west, instead of both directions. The Red Route will no longer stop at 14th Street, near the Great Northern Town Center, but the Blue Route will still serve that area.
Later this year, Capital Transit will add new buses to its fleet. A state grant will pay for the new ARBOC-brand buses, which will include more seating and easier access for people with disabilities. The first will arrive this winter, while a second will come around September. It will take several months to train drivers and get the new buses ready for the streets.
Larson said the new vehicles will look more like traditional urban buses.
“People will recognize it as a public transportation bus,” he said. “We think that’s really going to help our visual – that Helena does have a fixed-route bus service.”
Larson said he wants to expand advertising to bring more attention to Capital Transit. He also plans to add more covered shelters at bus stops, if funding allows. In the long run, leaders hope to eventually add more fixed routes, especially to serve Helena’s northeast.
“For now, our point is just to keep improving that service,” said Larson.
You can find more information on Capital Transit’s latest changes at the service’s website, ridethecapitalt.org. Larson also encouraged people to download the RouteShout 2.0 smartphone app, which shows maps and schedules for Capital Transit, as well as where where the buses are at any given time.