LexTran's new service between Lexington and Jessamine County struggles to attract riders

gkocher1@herald-leader.comJune 16, 2014 

Lextran buses leave the Transit Center.

Getting people out of their cars and onto a bus in Jessamine County is proving to be difficult.

On Jan. 13, Lextran extended its Route 23 south along Nicholasville Road into Jessamine County. But an average of "two or three people per day" are getting on at the Nicholasville stops, Lextran spokeswoman Jill Barnett said.

The expanded route makes stops twice each weekday morning and twice each weekday afternoon at Brannon Crossing shopping center and the Sam's Club off U.S. 27. Each one-way trip is $1; discounts are available for seniors, students and people with disabilities.

Lexington lawyer Peter Brackney, who lives in Nicholasville and who chatted up the latest Jessamine County route, acknowledged the "difficulty in getting people to change their normal habits."

Ridership has increased during the past year on Route 23, but the riders are getting on at Fayette County stops, such as the Wal-Mart at Nicholasville Road and Man o' War Boulevard, Barnett said.

"The route is basically designed for a commuter, and a commuter is somebody who already has a car and is used to driving it," Barnett said. "So there's not a lot of motivation or incentive for them to park their car.

"If this were a time of year where gas was over $4 a gallon, it might be something that would change a habit. But at this time we don't seem to be there yet."

Commuting is a way of life for many in Jessamine County, where 2010 Census data indicates that more than half the work force drives to jobs outside the county.

Barnett could not say whether Lextran would discontinue the Jessamine County stops. She said the transit authority wanted to discuss the matter with stakeholders such as the Nicholasville City Commission and Jessamine County Fiscal Court, the local governments that put up a share of the money to pay for the service.

This wasn't Lextran's first foray outside of Fayette County. It operated a commuter line from downtown Lexington to Nicholasville from October 1997 through February 1999. The "Nicholasville Express" was financed by a federal grant plus state and local money as a pilot program aimed at reducing congestion and air pollution.

The latest extended service into Jessamine County became a reality when Lextran secured a $14,000 federal grant through a program called Job Access Reverse Commute. Lextran and Jessamine County matched the $14,000. (Jessamine Fiscal Court and Nicholasville City Commission put up a $3,500 each, while Lextran put up $7,000.)

Amy Cloud, executive director of the Jessamine County Chamber of Commerce, said response to the Lextran route had been disappointing.

"We worked really hard to get this here, and when asking around in the community, it was needed," Cloud said. "I know that Lextran has started a bigger ad campaign regarding the bus service. They have electronic billboard ads on Nicholasville Road as well, coming into our community."

Meanwhile, another transit service is beefing up what it offers to patrons within Nicholasville and adding its own Nicholasville-to-Lexington route. But each will require passengers to call and schedule rides a day ahead.

The services will be provided by Bluegrass Ultra-Transit Service, or BUS, a Frankfort-based operation run by Bluegrass Community Action Partnership, a federally subsidized rural transit service.

Beginning July 1, BUS will start a Jessamine-to-downtown-Lexington route. It will begin at the Jessamine County Senior Center, 111 Hoover Drive, on Nicholasville's west side, and go to major medical destinations in Lexington, plus Blue Grass Airport, Lextran and the Greyhound Bus terminal. Departure times from the senior center generally will be 7, 8 and 11 a.m., noon; and 3 and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Actual times might vary.

The service requires riders to call 24 hours in advance. The fare will be $5 for a round trip. For information, call 1-800-456-6588.

Also beginning July 1, BUS will start a "NichTran" route that will loop around the city of Nicholasville from Tuesday through Saturday. The fare is $2, $1 for veterans with cash.

The driver can go off the loop route, but deviation requests are limited to a half-mile. For information, call 1-800-456-6588.

"Nicholasville, Wilmore, Jessamine County — the history isn't there for public transportation," Cloud said. "But maybe with this NichTran, people will begin to understand the benefits of having a bus running through town. You won't know until you try."

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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