AppalCart review recommends additional buses, transit center

Cole Elledge, Reporter

A comprehensive review on AppalCart addressed issues such  as increased ridership, funding and infrastructure needs, entering the 2020 financial year in a presentation Feb. 18.

Craig Hughes, director of AppalCart, said one significant issue facing AppalCart is overcrowding on buses.

“We’ve kind of reached the point, or close to the point, of where our system is about saturated, as far as the number of riders we can carry,” Hughes said.

According to the review, the 2020 financial year has seen a 19% increase in ridership. 

AppalCart plans to add buses to the Blue and Express routes in 2021. Hughes said that 10 new buses are recommended over the next five years. However, adding new buses requires additional parking and employees. The expansion and replacement of buses will cost $13.5 million.

The review also recommended constructing a transit center on Rivers Street. The center would ease difficulties bus drivers face turning around at Rivers Street. The transit center would replace Peacock Circle, and would cost $2.2 million.

Hughes said that outside funding is needed to complete these recommendations. 

Quint David, chair of the AppalCart board, said AppalCart already relies on outside sources for funding.

“We don’t have taxes. We get funding from App State, the state of North Carolina, Boone, Watauga County,” David said.

Federal and state grants for AppalCart total $2 million annually, and additional grants are unlikely. Total local funding stands at $1.7 million. According to the review, $25.4 million is required between 2020 and 2030 to meet the recommendations for AppalCart.

David said the board typically meets in the summer to decide what routes will be maintained or removed. Decisions on routes depend on funding from outside sources. 

Hughes said while AppalCart services are costly, they benefit Boone by reducing traffic. 

“I think it’s going to be necessary to find answers to these transportation problems as we move along, or we can suffer economically. But I would say, you know, as far as AppalCart goes, the more trips we can get off the road and, on a bus, the better off it is for everybody,” Hughes said.