Murray, KY – Murray's new transit system has been up and running for more than six months now. The system includes several buses and a brand new trolley winding around town during the daylight hours. Some signs denoting where the busses stop are popping up here and there, and the transit is seeing an increase in the number of people using it: total ridership last month has more than doubled since its August debut. Most of that traffic is driven by the new Murray State routes which are free to faculty, staff, and students.
MSU Grad Student Dhami Mahitani is working on her MBA here. She's from Belize and stays at the College Courts on campus. She rides the Gold Line at least once a day, if not to class then to other places like Wal-Mart.
Mahitani- Then you just have to wait a little while and then the bus comes and you just go, and it saves time.
Mahitani says the service is convenient and is much better than walking the distance in the cold, which takes her an average of 40 minutes to and from class. She doesn't mind walking and may use the service a bit less when the weather warms up, but won't completely abandon it. She says during the last month, the number of her fellow passengers along the route has varied.
Mahitani- Sometimes none, sometimes maybe like two, maybe like five. On a rainy day it gets full.
Weather may be one factor prompting more student riders to hop on the buses, which loop around the campus every 25 minutes. The new trolley brings the total number of routes to four, all of which have a centric stop at the Curris Center. The red and gold lines focus on serving MSU and only run while students are on campus. The blue and green lines service the rest of the city. The trolley began its first run Tuesday. Murray resident Debbie Norsworthy was its third passenger. She's been using the area transit sparingly for years, but the new changes and defined routes now allow her to use it as much as she can.
Norsworthy- Especially the dollar one, it's better than the three. When I got the money I use it.
The new changes brought down the cost for any citizen to catch a lift and the trolley only costs a quarter. Norsworthy praises the transit authority for having buses stop every 25 minutes, but wishes they would wait at the stops for just a little bit longer.
Norsworthy- I turn around and try to catch the first one before I got on the one to catch this and it just ran off and I could almost hit it. And I'm like a dog chasing it. So that I don't like.
Norsworthy appreciates the service and says without it she'd probably have to walk everywhere again. She says at first it was hard to understand the multiple routes and which bus line would take her where she wanted to go.
Norsworthy- They need to keep it up and just advertise more.
Hansen- That's been a task that has at some point seemed hard for us.
Murray-Calloway County Transit Authority Director Bjarne Hansen.
Hansen- We've really tried to make the effort of getting signs up and the majority of signs on campus are up. In the city, they're a little slower at this point to get those up. We're still working with them. The ground's frozen so we're having some issues.
Hansen says maps will also be up soon on all signs along the routes, including a larger scale map and an informational kiosk at the Curris Center. Hansen says establishing the route system was enabled by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act or ARRA. He recently met with County Commissioners who asked him about the service's sustainability.
Hansen- The fact that this is a shot in the arm and so how do we essentially sustain this? And so, the ARRA projects are really brick and mortar. They are capitol projects. As far as sustainability, I think we're close to sustainable and what I mean by that is the partners that we have on plate right now with the city, with the county, with Murray State University, with the federal government, etc.
Hansen hopes those partnerships will secure the service's future despite sometimes running in the red.
Hansen- We try to break even. I mean that's the idea, the goal. No business can ever run on a deficit. We're not designed to make money though, we're designed to provide services. I mean, when it comes down to dollars and cents at the end of the day, we run very tight.
Hansen also points to other future revenue-generating possibilities down the line, like selling ad space on buses and proposed stop shelters. Hansen says the authority will also be able to apply for larger grants once its ridership grows. Last month, an average 252 passengers hopped on a bus in Murray each day, despite the University being closed for the first week of the New Year. Totals for January reached over 11,000 riders, more than doubling the service's number last August. Hansen plans to further enhance the MCTA this Spring, using an almost $1.5 million dollar grant to build a maintenance building and covered parking garage.