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Jul 02

PART Behind the Scenes: Route Planning

Posted on July 2, 2019 at 7:43 AM by Brooke Kochanski

There are 16 different PART Express routes serving the greater Triad region. Using each of those different routes, we’re able to connect riders from Mt. Airy to Chapel Hill, more than 100 miles apart. And within every individual route are a number of stops that make it possible for people to get to work, connect with friends and family or explore the Piedmont.


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But how do we decide where to place stops or what routes to adjustment? Why do some routes get changed while others remain the same?


You might be surprised to learn that those decisions are the combination of research, data and rider feedback. Each of these three components plays a crucial role in how and why a PART Express route gets altered or updated, and we’d like to take you behind the scenes for an inside look at this complex yet crucial process.


Mark Kirstner, PART’s Director of Planning, has been helping to lead PART’s route planning efforts since 2008. And when it comes down to it, Mark emphasizes that route planning and adjustments revolve around one central idea: “We’re always striving to make PART more convenient, easier to understand, and easier to use.”


In the past 5 years, Mark and his team have turned what was an informal almost random discussion to a “scientific, data-driven process.”


This all begins by making a concerted effort to both request and follow-up on passenger and driver feedback. By listening to the concerns and suggestions of the people who ride PART on a daily basis, we’re better able to get a sense of how the routes are operating at a practical level.


Sometimes those changes are quite easy to implement and are done as quickly as possible. When a particular request takes on a more complicated challenge, it will be flagged for a closer look when we’re conducting a larger, system-wide analysis.


The technology on our buses also provides us with a great number of helpful data points. For example, we’re able to know how many daily riders a route may have, which bus stops are used by more riders, and even whether ridership is declining during certain days of the week.


And finally, data from the US Census gives us big-picture information such as how many people living in Greensboro are travelling to Winston-Salem for work every day. We combine that broad data with periodic surveys, such as surveys of local businesses, local and state governments and the Department of Labor, to capture a more specific look at where there are unmet transit needs.


One example of this planning process in motion would be the recent introduction of our Route 17, connecting Kernersville to Winston-Salem. This route was a direct result of PART’s efforts to lessen the effects of the Business 40 closure project by providing an alternative to employees affected by this extensive project.


Initially, riders looking to get from our Coble Transit Center (CTC) to downtown Winston-Salem had to take two separate routes: one from CTC to Kernersville, and then another to downtown Winston-Salem. Based on rider feedback and data, we were able to combine those two routes into one, and then extend the endpoint to Baptist Medical Center and Forsyth Medical Center.


This change has resulted in an increase of daily riders on the route, in addition to the positive feedback we’ve received from riders along the way.


So what else leads to these kinds of changes in our PART Express system? According to Mark, there are 4 key triggers:


  1. Changes in Ridership: If a route is no longer meeting the desired levels of ridership, we will make changes to either its routing or perhaps even its schedule.
  2. Passenger Feedback: Whether it’s one insightful comment or a noticeable trend, we do our best to incorporate the concerns of our riders into this process.
  3. New Business Opportunities: The opening of a large new business in a given area might justify adding it into an existing route to provide employees with access.
  4. New Revenue Streams: When new grants or funding from our government partners becomes available, we will often use those funds to make any needed improvements.


No matter what factors lead to a route change, none of those decisions are ever made lightly. We strive to take into account information from an analytical, data-driven perspective as well as a more personal, human-focused side. In this sense our work never changes, as there are always improvements to be made and new riders to serve.


With your help—and the continued resources we pull from so many of our valued partners—we can continue to work towards our goal of connecting communities across the Triad.


If you have suggestions about PART Express bus or shuttle service, complete our Route Request form to let our planning department know.

Make sure to check out the upcoming PART Express Route Adjustments scheduled for August 5th