This morning was the first morning of service for Hampton Roads Transit's (HRT) Metro Area eXpress (MAX). I volunteered to help with riders, working the Wards Corner Direct Transfer Center 6:50-9:40 A.M. Some observations from working and riding today.
As on the first day of Cedar Grove, things were a mess, but could have been much worse. At least 40% of riders I talked to were unaware of the change. Some buses were late, destination signs malfunctioning on a few of the new 3000 series MAX buses, some drivers didn't have full and proper MAX information, etc. A consensus among three drivers talking was that the old direct radio system would have helped, allowing MAX and mainline drivers to speak to each other.
That said, a number of riders were quite happy with the change. On Route 961 (which serves Wards Corner), buses run more hours, twice as often at peak times, and the new buses are very nice.
RIDING THE MAX
To get to Wards Corner, I took the 961 up from Cedar Grove. The driver was stuck in his mainline local driving habits, not using some express tactics. Still we got to Wards Corner on schedule.
After finishing, I took the 961 back to Cedar Grove. We had a Peninsula driver who was unfamiliar with the downtown stops and who didn't know what mainline buses served Cedar Grove.
I then took the 960 to the Oceanfront and back. A huge improvement over taking the 20 all the way out there. However, the 960 may have too many frequencies. On the way back, another rider and I agreed the 960 could operate every thirty minutes peak and hourly off-season, off-peak. The savings could then be used for operating later into the evening. (Maybe on the 961, too.)
It's going to take 3-4 weeks for everyone to adjust, but the MAX should be a huge step forward for mass transit in Hampton Roads.
However, this morning's on-time issues only underlined the fact that express buses are only an interim measure, with a regional light rail network needed as the long-term solution.