Palm Tran is getting ready to roll out its first major service change in more than 20 years, promising its bus riders — 9 million annually — more direct, convenient and faster service.
“I saw a system that hadn’t changed in over 20 years and I said there has to be opportunity for improvement,” Forbes said.
The route system has been changed to be more direct and linear, Forbes said. As a result, riders who had their routes down to a routine will have to get to know the new ones.
But Forbes said the transit system has planned a “robust” education campaign to help the public.
- Palm Tran identified 62,600 hours of service that should have been used more efficiently, resulting in $5 million to reinvest into the system.
- Buses will have free Wi-Fi.
- 19 of the 34 routes will have frequency improvements, improved span of service and more rides on nights and weekends for the public to have better access to work and school. While 62 percent of the routes run only once an hour now, that will decrease to 44 percent with the new system. And while 12 percent run even less than that, the RPM system will change that to 6 percent.
- Four routes are being merged into two. Route 45 (Lake and Parker avenues) is merging with Route 60 (Purdy Lane). Route 47 (Belle Glade/Pahokee) is merging with Route 48 (Canal Point/South Bay).
- One of the routes that hit the Palm Beach International Airport, Route 42, is being eliminated. The route has an average of 8.4 passengers per hour and is the least-used route. The cut will save $250,000 per year. In comparison, the most popular line Palm Tran runs is Route 63 (Lantana Road), with 37.85 riders per hour.
- A pilot program called Palm Tran Connection Flex is planned for Belle Glade, South Bay and Pahokee. Riders could access it at the bus stop or could call and request to be picked up or dropped off. The smaller vehicles would be able to get into hard-to-reach areas. The Florida Department of Transportation is pitching in money for the service, which is expected to start in November.
The new system is expected to start Sept. 30, as long as the Palm Beach County Commission approves it at Tuesday’s public meeting.
To appease riders during the change, the public can ride the buses for free Sept. 30 through Oct. 3. Aside from that, fares will not change from the current $2 per one-way trip.
Despite the advances, several concerns from the public won’t be addressed with this RPM.
Palm Tran still will not offer service on seven major holidays while Tri-Rail and transportation systems in Tampa, Broward County, Pinellas County, Orlando and Jacksonville do. Palm Tran would need more money to do that. Also, 11 routes still won’t have service on Sundays. Riders want more service on Jog Road south of Lantana Road, on State Road 7 south of Lake Worth Road and in other growing suburban areas. And, about half of the routes will still have a bus coming only once an hour or even less often.
“The changes only covers 15 to 20 percent of the problems that Palm Tran has,” said Boca Raton resident Stanley Voice. “Palm Tran’s problems are due to a lack of funding to run the buses in a manner that is conducive to increasing ridership and also to add new routes.”
Voice, who has been an advocate for improved service at Palm Tran, said the county needs to give more money to the bus system because the service is already years behind.
His sentiments were echoed by residents at a commission workshop in July when Palm Tran presented the changes. County officials said they were going to look into how much it would cost to offer service on holidays.
Of Palm Tran’s $135 million annual budget, about $67 million comes from Palm Beach County. The rest comes from state and federal money, said Joseph Harrington, Palm Tran spokesman.
Under with the RPM, one of the big route changes is 94 in Boca Raton. The route will connect the Tri-Rail station on Yamato Road to Florida Atlantic University to U.S. 1 and south to Camino Real.
Also, Route 52 will now extend to the Palm Beach State College’s Loxahatchee Groves campus.
Palm Tran has already made some changes, including with Route 4. The route was expanded north to the VA Medical Center off of 45th Street and provides additional access to Haverhill Road north of Okeechobee Boulevard. This June, 7,117 riders took the route. That’s a 154.3 percent increase compared to June 2017. The route is providing 68 daily trips compared to 38 before the changes.
“If we get a fraction of the success we’ve had with Route 4 this would be a big win,” Forbes said.