I previously visited Suffolk to check out it's bus service after it was reintegrated into Hampton Roads Transit's (HRT) network ("Riding HRT In Suffolk" May 11, 2009). On Monday HRT began making changes to standardize service delivery practices in Suffolk with those used in the other six cities that HRT serves. Having the day free today, I returned to Suffolk to see what was new and how it was being received.
First of all, congratulations to HRT's planners for the job they did with Suffolk's routes. The twisting maze nature of the routes has been largely straightened out so they look and ride like bus routes elsewhere in Hampton Roads. Today's journey felt much shorter in that we weren't making a turn every couple blocks. The mangled nature of the previous route lines was such a mess that HRT Staff wasn't sure at first where to start untangling it.
For the most part, the changes appear to be well-received. Transitioning has created some confusion. Unable to have all new bus signs up on Day 1, current stops are a hodgepodge of newly-posted bus stops, newly-designated courtesy stops, and moved stops at some shopping centers. Suffolk is effectively playing by three different sets of rules: old, transitional, and new.
In addition, HRT Customer Service personnel spent many hours in Suffolk last week to try to prepare passengers for what was to come. The consensus today was that they made a major impact on smoothing things over.
Every bus system has it's quirks, and I discovered one in Suffolk today: both Routes 72 and 74 turn around in the same Farmer Joe's market parking lot. Route 74 goes there early during it's hour block, Route 72 later. Therefore, you can take the 74 to Farmer Joe's, make a quick shopping trip, then catch the 72 back to Suffolk Bus Plaza all within an hour despite hourly service.
Of course, the bottom line is how does Suffolk bus ridership respond to the changes? Does ridership increase due to improved service? Does ridership go down due to route changes ending what was effectively door-to-door service for some? Suffolk's ridership numbers will be very interesting to watch over the next several months.