Resort bus ridership down this year - any theories?

August 1, 2014

I spoke with lots of DelDOT people last week trying to get a sense of seasonal traffic this year, large pending projects in our area, and any other interesting transportation tidbits I could glean.

Many local people have told me this is the heaviest year they have seen for traffic in a long time. Last weekend, when rainy weather sent shoppers to the outlets, Route 1 was particularly special. The combination of the weather with the rental turnovers on Saturday afternoon backed up southbound traffic on Coastal Highway coming into the resort area nearly to the Route 16 intersection many miles to the west.

At Cape Henlopen State Park’s north entrance at Lewes, rangers were already stopping incoming traffic before noon on Saturday because the park had already reached its vehicle limit. Those waiting for others to leave so they would be allowed in, filled Cape Henlopen Drive all the way back to the ferry terminal.

Loads of cyclists and walkers took advantage of local trails to bypass the traffic. Traffic congestion rarely slows people on foot or bicycle.

But the jury is still out on what is happening with the state’s bus service in the beach area this year. From May 22 into September, the DART system adds extra buses to meet resort needs. A special route is added between Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach. Buses run throughout the Lewes, Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach areas and southward on Coastal Highway to connect with the Ocean City, Md. public transportation system. With hourly service, and the Park and Ride station in full operation at the entrance to Rehoboth, Delaware is doing its part to provide public transportation in the resort area when the population swells. But, at least through June, something strange is happening.

According to Julie Theyerl in DART’s public relations department, ridership through June this season was down 15 percent from last year for the same period.

“I really don’t know why,” she said. “We’re advertising and marketing; we have lots of visibility. I can’t say what’s happening.”

Last year through June, 94,247 passengers rode DART’s resort bus system compared to 80,129 this year. On the Wilmington to Rehoboth Beach route, 1,477 passengers rode the buses through June last year compared to 1,131 this year.

Theyerl said the biggest bulk of the riders on the resort system is employees. “But we also have lots of vacationers staying in communities north of the Park and Ride who ride the buses. Parking is expensive, and sometimes when there are rainy days the numbers can shoot up from people heading for the outlets.”

Those using the system sing its praises, said Theyerl. “We had a rider appreciation day recently at the Park and Ride and one of our young employees was there taking comments. She was elated, said everyone loves our service. It was a very positive event. People like the convenience.”

July’s numbers may tell a different story, but Thereyl said they won’t be compiled until mid-August.

Big pedestrian project coming

While Theyerl is counting bus riders, George Spadafino is combing over final plans for a major pedestrian project scheduled to begin in early September after the summer crowds have thinned out. The $6.5 million project involves 12 miles of sidewalk work between the Nassau overpass and Lewes-Rehoboth Canal along with six new traffic light-assisted pedestrian walkways across Coastal Highway in the same area.

Spadafino works on major projects in the southern part of the state. “There will be a continuous sidewalk on both sides of Route 1 in that area when the project is complete,” he said. “We’ll be filling all of the existing gaps, repairing the sections in bad shape, and making sure all the curb ramps and existing sidewalks meet disability standards.”

Spadafino said new crosswalks with pedestrian-friendly signals will be installed at the following intersections: Dartmouth Drive and Wawa; Old Landing Road; Camelot Drive; Holland Glade Road; Rehoboth SR1 and IA (northerly entrance to Rehoboth); and Bay Vista Road.

This one is a long project – scheduled for 572 calendar days – because, said Spadafino, so much of the sidewalk construction involves handwork. “We are planning construction workshops to explain what’s being done. We don’t anticipate closing any of the travel lanes, but the bus and bicycle right-turn lane will be closed from time to time.”

He said benches and trash receptacles will be installed at the bus stops, but there are no plantings associated with this project.

All of it signals the continued evolution of the main thorough fare through Delaware’s resort area. “Some want it to be a main street; some want a highway,” said Spadafino.