The bus option to commute from Akron to Cleveland is getting an upgrade.
Starting today, one of Akron Metro Regional Transit Authority's two North Coast Express routes will serve new destinations and have expanded hours.
"The service that runs from the west side of Akron to Cleveland is going to have stops now at Cleveland State University, Cleveland Clinic and the Wade Park VA hospital," Metro spokesperson Molly Becker tells AkronNewsNow, "because that's been a huge request of ours, the Wade Park facility."
Metro's local route 101 has served the VA hospital in Brecksville, which recently closed. Becker says that route will continue to make connections with Greater Cleveland RTA's 77F Brecksville route near the former VA hospital location.
The x61 bus, which serves the Robert K. Pfaff Transit Center, the West Market Street corridor and the Fisher Park and Ride on Ghent Road, will also have midday service for the first time. The other North Coast Express bus, the x60 to Cuyahoga Falls, will remain on its current schedule on its current route. Both run weekdays only.
The fare remains $5 each way.
Becker says the additional North Coast Express service starting today is on a one year trial.
But the popularity of the overall North Coast Express service is not in question.
"It's one of our most popular (routes), especially with the economy, with gas prices, with parking prices," Becker says, "and we see anywhere from a 13 to a 17 percent increase on that service almost every single month compared to last year."
Becker says those wanting to visit downtown Cleveland's Horseshoe Casino and other attractions will likely use the expanded service.
It was last year that Metro transit was told by Chapel Hill Mall officials that it could no longer use the mall parking lot as a transfer point for its buses. That forced the transfers out on to Bucholzer Boulevard where riders had to dodge cars and wait in sometimes stormy weather for their next bus.
But that will all change on Sunday when Metro begins its summer routes to the Chapel Hill area.
Metro's Molly Becker tells AkronNewsNow " We bought the former Bakers Square property on Independence Avenue, so that our passengers can now be out of the elements for weather, can catch their buses there, and buses can transfer. People can get on and off the buses at the old Bakers Square property, which we call the Independence Turnaround."
Becker says the transit system also has plans for the old restaurant building on the property. " We have shelters out there. Long term we're looking at maybe making it a mini customer service center, maybe even having a cafe. The benefit is we own the property, so we can no longer have someone tell us we have to leave the property and that's the benefit," says Becker.
Becker says its a big convenience factor for Metro riders. " They don't have to be waiting in a parking lot, and the buses don't have to wait over in the street.All the buses can do all their business right there On Independence. Burt it doesn't change any of the bus stops. The bus stops are the same."
Metro is making only minor summer route changes beginning Sunday, and she says the new turnaround should be a big improvement over the congestion that was created on Bucholzer Boulevard by the bus transfers.
The spike in gas prices is boosting ridership on Akron's Metro Regional Transit Authority. Metro's Molly Becker tells AkronNewsNow " This year so far in just the first two months, January and February we're up five percent over last year's trips. So we do see an almost immediate increase in ridership because of the high gas prices."
Becker says most of the new passengers were drivers who earn lower income and decided a Metro daily ridership pass was cheaper to get to their destination.
The biggest increase in ridership for Metro comes between Akron and Cleveland. " Our North Coast Express Routes that go from Akron to Cleveland. That service is actually up 18.6% over last year at this time so those are the people who are parking their car here in Akron and taking a bus longer distances," says Becker.
Molly Becker says the increase in passengers is helping Metro's bottom line, and as the demand for service increases Metro is adding a new route. "We're introducing a new Route 26 on Exchange Street in Akron, and that's because we're seeing the need for more services in our area," says Becker.
Becker says Metro will always be an alternative for those who can't afford to pay higher gas prices, and the cost of a ride remains the same. She says unlike other public transit systems Metro has been able to rely on stable sales tax revenue to operate and to add routes when ridership and income increases.
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