Raleigh's Capital Area Transit and Triangle Transit Authority are working together to create a regional system that councilors hope will cause less confusion for current and future riders.
While many councilors agreed that the city should be moving toward a more cohesive system, the cause for debate at the City Council meeting on Tuesday was what to do about two new buses that are currently in production.
The city had three options.
Councilors could vote to paint the buses white to match the current CAT fleet, paint them according to a new color scheme that the city had been planning or wrap the buses in artwork as part of the Art on the Move program.
CAT and TTA staff have been discussing some kind of common branding, like all buses being painted the same color with a local overlay, but nothing has been finalized.
To minimized the prospects of having to repaint the new buses so soon after production, the council opted to hold off on any sort of branding and to wrap the buses in art.
But the decision came with a decent amount of debate among councilors.
Councilor Thomas Crowder said he was all for a regional system, but did not have enough information to be sold on a regional brand. “I'm trying to understand what is the overall purpose behind this,” he said. “I don't necessarily think we need to have a homogeneous look among all of the buses.”
Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin, who has been working on the issue in and out of the Law and Public Safety Committee for more than a year, said that it would help reduce confusion among riders. Also, “We're creating a regional bus system if we ever get a chance to vote on this half-cent sales tax,” she said.
Baldwin was referring to the proposed transit plan that would expand bus service, commuter rail and possible light rail in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. To fund the expansion, Wake voters would need to approve a half-cent sales tax increase.
But, Wake County Commissioners voted along party lines to hold off putting the referendum on the ballot until more work could be done on the plan.
Durham County voters have already approved the tax and voters in Orange County will take up a referendum this fall.
If the city were to paint the new buses in the Raleigh-centric theme, Baldwin said they run the risk of having three different-looking buses adding to rider confusion.
Councilor John Odom said that the city should go ahead with a Raleigh-centric brand for the new buses now rather than wait. Even if the sales tax were to finally be passed, it would be five years before a regional system would be created.
He was also unconvinced that Chapel Hill would paint its buses any other color but blue.
Baldwin countered that Chapel Hill is interested in working together and that color wasn't the issue. The issue was creating the regional brand and system that councilors have been advocating for regardless if the tax passes. “I don't think we're putting our money where our mouth is,” she said.
Baldwin said that a consultant would look at best practices in other cities and get public input on how the branding should go forward.
“It sounds to me that we all understand the need for a regional system,” said Mayor Nancy McFarlane. She added that the question is how does the system have a regional brand, but keep a local identity?
The council voted 7 to 1 to wrap the buses in art and to approve all of the other aspects of the partnership. Odom was the only dissenting vote.
The partnership will include a common website, regional route numbers, regional bus stop signage and regional fare review.
CAT and TTA will also continue to hold quarterly meetings to discuss common policies and procedures.