Until this summer, many of Cary, N.C.'s estimated 10,000 seniors and persons with disabilities had to rely on taxis or on family members and neighbors to provide transportation to shopping outlets, medical appointments, work and recreation. Now, with C-Tran, the town's door-to-door transit service, elderly and disabled residents enjoy increased mobility.
Located in central North Carolina in the heart of the high-tech Research Triangle Park, Cary is the seventh largest municipality in the state, with a population of just more than 100,000. Nevertheless, the only transit services available to residents before C-Tran were one commuter route operated by the regional transit authority and a paratransit service for clients of social service organizations in Wake County.
In 2000, the Cary town council established a resident-based steering committee to explore ways to increase transportation choices. The steering committee evaluated several options for seniors (defined as people 55 and over) and persons with disabilities. Those options included contracting with the county's existing human services paratransit service, contracting with volunteer organizations in town, providing a subsidized taxi service, and developing an in-house transit program.
After numerous discussions and recommendations by staff and outside consultants working with the steering committee, the council opted to develop an in-house transit program. The council believed that having an in-house program would maximize the city's control over the quality of the service and would allow the possibility of making the service available to all residents.
With the assistance of Columbia, S.C.-based Wilbur Smith and Associates, Cary issued a request for proposals to identify a transit company to operate the service. The RFP identified the service characteristics as follows:
The service should be demand-responsive and cover the town limits (more than 45 square miles).
The service should be door-to-door and operate from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
All components of the service should comply with or exceed the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Performance-based incentives/disincentives covering on-time performance, accidents, missed trips, rider complaints and vehicle cleanliness would be included in the contract.
Cary selected Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Transit to operate the service. Working with the transit company and the consultant, the town developed a start-up program to initiate the transit service in six months. The program included the development of a marketing plan, an operations plan and a monitoring plan.
The marketing effort involved a registration drive for seniors and persons with disabilities. The town identified nursing homes, seniors organizations and human services organizations to conduct on-site registrations. Transit riders received picture identification cards when they registered for the service. That effort is ongoing and is proving to be successful in establishing a client base for C-Tran.
C-Tran began operating in August and currently carries more than 1,200 riders per month. Weekday ridership is on track to meet the town's 12-month goal of 2,000 riders per month. Saturday ridership is building slowly, and the town is evaluating options to improve the transit system's weekend performance.
The service costs Cary approximately $45 per hour to operate, which is partially offset by the $2 fare per one-way, in-town trip and $4 fare per one-way, out-of-town trip. (C-Tran provides limited service to Wake, Durham and Orange counties for medical or work purposes.) The remaining cost is funded entirely by the town, although federal funds may be sought in the future.
So far, the service is on time (a maximum of 15 minutes before or after assigned pick-up time) 99 percent of the time. Riders have responded with positive comments, and the town has not received any complaints.
Ñ James Parajon, long-range planning manager, Cary, N.C.