Monday, June 30, 2008

Another spoke sorely needed in this transportation hub

Greensboro is a major transportation and logistics hub that features a large, modern airport, rail links, several interstate highways, and even an inland port. The city and region are especially proud of their airport, Piedmont Triad International (PTI), which is a focus of economic development but is also struggling to maintain airlines and passengers.

Given the region's many transportation strengths but also PTI's vulnerability, it is surprising that the airport is so poorly served by public transportation and, in particular, that it lacks direct bus service to downtown Greensboro (or Winston-Salem or High Point).

A passenger arriving at PTI who wants to get to downtown Greensboro--a short 12 miles away--in something other than a private or rented automobile faces the following transportation choices:

  1. take a taxi, run by the airport's monopoly transportation service, at a fixed cost of $21.70,

  2. take a shuttle, run by the same service, at a fixed cost of $18.05, or

  3. if the passenger happens to arrive during work hours on a weekday, take the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation (PART) shuttle to the PART hub and then catch the "express" bus to the downtown bus and train depot at a cost of $2.00.
In other words, there is no bus service to the airport on weekends or late in the evening, and the existing weekday service by PART includes an inconvenient stop and transfer at a hub outside of town. Note that the PART hub does allow you to connect to buses to Winston-Salem, High Point, and Durham. Nevertheless, it's incredible that there is no direct service from the airport to any of these locations.

A modest suggestion to PTI, PART, and the Greensboro Transportation Authority (GTA) is to initiate a direct bus line that connects PTI with the train and bus depot.

Not only is the depot located downtown, but it also serves AMTRAK, several bus companies, and GTA's own buses. A direct route between the depot would thus be convenient to downtown visitors and encourage air/train and air/bus connections.

The route from the depot to the airport could easily be tweaked to pass by the courthouse complex, Greensboro College, UNCG, and the Friendly Shopping Center. This would increase the usefulness to residents, students, and visitors. Ridership by residents and students would also take pressure off the parking lots at the airport, which tend to be oversubscribed around holidays and school breaks.

Finally, given the growing employment at new businesses near the airport, especially the new Fed-Ex facility, public transportation would be useful for daily commuters.

A great feature of bus links is that they have relatively low start-up and adjustment costs. The road network to get to and from the airport is already in place as are bus/shuttle stops. The main start-up cost would be the buses themselves. Thus, it's easy to experiment with new routes and easy to drop routes if demand doesn't materialize.

Even better, the route to the airport could be classified as a special service and priced differently than other routes. For example, riders could be restricted to either using an existing bus pass or purchasing a one-day unlimited pass. This would be helpful to most commuters who would use existing bus passes but would effectively raise the price of one-way service for PTI passengers to the daily unlimited bus fare ($3.25 vs. $1.20).

A bus link seems like a low-risk way to take advantage of and cross-promote the region's transportation capabilities. Importantly, it is a way to make PTI more competitive, and to the extent that it substitutes for cars and taxis, it may even help the environment.