Christian Diaz, Staff Writer
After a month-long delay, the Asheville Transit Authority, in partnership with Warren Wilson College, has merged the Black Mountain Bus Route 28 and Warren Wilson Route 29 to form Route 170, extending access throughout the Swannanoa region for commuting students and the public.
Dean of Work Ian Robertson, Dean of Students Deb Myers and senior Emmet Fisher worked closely with the Asheville Transit Authority to create the new schedule. The result is an expanded route that provides an express route beginning in Asheville, stopping at Warren Wilson College and ending in Black Mountain.
A number of priorities were considered in the drafting of the new route: buses’ chronic lateness was a main concern according to student feedback, the availability of daily transportation to and from campus for day students and reliable access to the Black Mountain area.
“We needed to think about how we could try and provide a more on-time service,” said Robertson. “The difficulty with an on-time service is that the route [which was being taken] made it go past the mall during rush hour. The bus got slowed down and therefore could never seem to be on time. It was always really tough to do a one-hour turn-around while coming past the mall.”
To address this issue without completely eliminating access to the mall, the route has become an express service route along Tunnel Road. However, the compromise reached bas the bus making fewer stops. A student wishing to take the bus to the mall must now transfer from one bus to another. Students can still board at the transit station, Pritchard Park and College Street stops in downtown Asheville.
“The new route achieves all of those goals,” explained Asheville Transit Projects Coordinator Yuri Kolsen, “by shortening the route and making the Warren Wilson portion more direct and increasing the number of stops [from] what existed of the old Black Mountain route. We were hoping to provide more accessibility for jobs, shopping and commuting along the Black Mountain route than we had before.”
The opportunity to reform the bus system emerged when Route 28 lost its funding from the state. A master transit plan created and approved by the Asheville City Council in October of 2009 recommended that Routes 28 and 29 be consolidated into a single service in order to remove redundant routes along the corridor, as both traveled down Tunnel Road.
Because this particular route is subsidized by tuition money, the Asheville Transit Authority, along with the college, qualified for a $160,000 Federal Transit Administration grant that would fill the gap in funding needed to operate the route over the next two years. Warren Wilson subsidizes Route 170 by approximately 40%.
Although the Asheville Transit Authority sought to cater to the college community, few students contributed to the reforms.
“In general, I was disappointed with the student level of involvement with the change,” said Fisher, who interned at the Asheville Transit Authority over the summer. “We just hung out and waited until we got the new schedule and then we made some changes to it at Caucus right at the end of last semester. The ATA did take those changes into account, the schedule was altered according to our input. Unfortunately [there were] only about 25 students at Caucus, so it wasn’t a wide-spread method of gaining input.”
The college first implemented a transportation service in the mid-1990s when the
Work Program hired students to drive school vans to and from Asheville on a daily basis. This system was insufficient, however, prompting Robertson to begin conversations with the Asheville Transit Authority which in turn led to the creation of the Warren Wilson bus route.
The most recent change was scheduled to take place on Jan. 3, one week before the start of the current semester. The inauguration was postponed to Jan. 31 on account of complications with the Asheville transit driver’s union as well as a discrepancy in the route which made it ineligible for the grant. The issues have since been resolved.