By David Hodges
In 2010, the BioBus, an initiative organized by the Kernoodle Center to help students without available transportation, started operating a route that takes Elon students to some of the most popular volunteer spots. Now, the Downtown, East Burlington Bio Bus route is a life line for public riders as well.
“I’ve been here since 2000 and this is the first time in my life that I’ve ever not had a vehicle,” said BioBus rider Janet Roche.
“If it weren’t for the Bio Bus and Elon College I would…” she shakes her head. “And this guy [her son] loves to ride it. I mean everyday it’s ‘Can we take the bus? Can we take the bus?’”
Roche said she uses the bus as much as she can. The route makes nine stops and she said maybe the most important one for her is the Wal-Mart on Graham Hopedale Road, where she does her grocery shopping. But with the end of the school year comes the end of her most valuable resource.
“When they [the BioBus] were closed over the summer time, it was a pain,” Roche said. “It was heart breaking. I had I had to borrow rides. I had to take taxis once a week at least just to, just to get to the grocery store.”
Roche and her son Ryan get on the BioBus at the Allied Churches stop. Many times they don’t make it in time for the first run of the day because Ryan is still coming back from school, Roche said. It will be another hour before they can ride it.
The BioBus is the only fixed-route bus system in Burlington, which is why city officials are discussing different plans to make public transportation more accessible. One of them is to partner with Elon and expand the services of the Bio Bus.
“If the bus isn’t running then we walk,” said Mary, who chose to only giver her first name. “And then, once in a while you have to catch the cab and just go, ‘Oh gosh.’ That’s expensive.”
But so is Burlington’s first choice for easing transportation needs: installing a fixed-route bus system. Because of people like Mary and Roche, public ridership on the downtown BioBus route almost equals that of Elon students, with the fall semester registering 858 public riders and 953 student riders.
Officials from Burlington’s Planning Department recently reached out to Mary Morrison of the Kernodle Center, and set up a meeting to discuss potentially collaborating with the BioBus.
In a recent city council retreat, Assistant Planning Director of the City of Burlington Mike Nunn laid out a plan of how the city could help Elon afford operating a larger route, such as by developing a memorandum of understanding that would give Elon University some of the federal grant money the city receives every year to start a public transit system. So far that money has been given back to the state of North Carolina to be distributed across other transportation systems in various counties.
The federal grant would cover 90 percent of start-up costs, but city officials are considering whether Burlington can afford the operational costs, of which they would have to pay 50 percent. The rest would be subsidized through other grants.
Nunn said the city council will meet in March to give and update on the status of their public transportation plans.