A Delaware Area Regional Transit planner says there are gaps in the transit system in Sussex County, and she hopes a working group will help officials identify the problems.
A high priority on the list is bus service to southeastern Sussex, where no service exists for Frankford, Dagsboro, Selbyville, Bethany Beach, Ocean View, Millville and Fenwick Island.
Planner Tremica Cherry-Wall said public transportation was a topic of discussion at the October 2019 Sussex County Today & Tomorrow Conference. “It was time to bring back this working group and make sure public transit is meeting the needs in Sussex County,” she said.
Cherry-Wall also said the number of people riding buses on certain routes in the county needs more attention. She said ridership numbers show that DART is not meeting its threshold of seven passengers per hour on many routes. “We may need to do something else,” she said.
DART officials also say narrow roads without shoulders and lack of handicap accessibility can hold back development of new bus routes.
Areas of concern
Ken Sigvardson, an Ocean View Planning and Zoning Commission member, said bus stops do not exist along the busy Route 26 and Route 17 corridors.
“The area is growing at a rapid rate. What do we need to do to get you to look at this area seriously?” he asked. That growth includes a new Beebe Healthcare emergency and cancer center along Route 17 near Millville.
At Cherry-Wall’s suggestion, Sigvardson said he would schedule a meeting with stakeholders and DART officials.
Seaford City Manager Charles Anderson said DART needs to update its service to the city and how riders gain access to buses along the Route 13 corridor.
A requirement for Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant sidewalks at new and upgraded bus stops drew a lot of discussion.
Rep. Dan Short, R-Seaford, agreed that some areas should have sidewalks for pedestrian travel, but state officials should follow the same rules they enforce on others.
He said one of the key intersections in central Sussex County does not have safe pedestrian access for walking or bus stops, noting the state owns land on all four corners of the Route 113-South Bedford Street intersection – Thurman Adams State Service Center, Delaware Department of Transportation maintenance office, Delaware State Police Troop 4 and a vacant lot.
“The state should come to the table as well,” he said.
Seaford resident Lynn Betts suggested officials look at building a park-and-ride in the Seaford area so residents could park their cars and use buses for trips to the beach area and Dover.
Cherry-Wall said a route has been created for service from Seaford to Dover but funding has not been secured. “It's on our wish list,” she said.
Other key areas mentioned included Mountaire Farms and Selbyville, where the plant is located, and more stops in Long Neck and along Route 24.
Cherry-Wall said she would provide more information on priority areas at the next meeting.
DART looks at all requests
Planner Steve Ottinger said DART deals with many challenges to provide transit service to Sussex County. “It's a really big county with a lot of people, and a lot more people coming in,” he said. “There are changes here now that we could only dream about.”
He said a priority is to look at ways to serve underserved areas, those with no service and those near large employers, shopping centers, education facilities and medical facilities. “We look at new areas of growth and get developers’ feedback,” he said.
Cherry-Wall said requests for service come from a variety of sources, including Facebook. She said DART staff take every request seriously and research each one. As an example, she pointed to requests for bus service in Oak Orchard.
Cherry-Wall said there are no sidewalks, and area roads are narrow, providing no safe places for a bus to pull over. “We can't serve this area without major infrastructure improvements to the roads. A stop on Route 24 may be the best we can do,” she said.
Upgrading bus stops
Ottinger said the days of placing a metal post in the ground designating a bus stop are over. New and upgraded bus stops have to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Delaware Department of Transportation standards for wheelchair access, with sidewalks and safe access to other walkways or safe areas to cross intersections and roads.
He said an ADA-compliant bus stop could cost as much as $100,000.
Bill Williamson, DART passenger facilities coordinator, said many existing stops are on a list for upgrades but lack funding. He said DART officials work with DelDOT officials to include new or upgraded stops as part of road-improvement projects. “Passengers are pedestrians once they leave a bus,” Williamson said.
Ten new shelter bus stops have been added along the Route 1 corridor between Lewes and Rehoboth Beach. The shelters include benches, and some have solar lights and real-time message boards, but they all have to be ADA compliant, he said.
Shelter stops are reserved for high-ridership areas with at least 40 boardings per day.
DART ridership numbers
Jared Kaufmann, DART planner, provided average daily ridership totals from mid-September through mid-December.
• Route 201, Lewes Transit Center to Rehoboth Beach Bandstand, 180 riders per day on weekdays and 230 riders per day on weekends.
• Route 204, Lewes Transit Center to Lewes, 65 riders per day on weekdays and weekends.
• Route 206, Georgetown to Lewes Transit Center, 110 riders per day with a third getting on and off at Harbeson to work at the Allen Harim plant.
• Route 215, Millsboro to Route 24 and Rehoboth Beach and Pot-Nets area in Long Neck, 100 riders on weekdays and 80 riders on Saturdays.
• Route 307, Lewes Transit Center to Milford and Dover, 50 riders per day.
Beach bus service from May to mid-September provides extended hours to 2 a.m. and also offers three additional routes. The 201 route changes on weekends from buses every half hour to every 10 minutes.
DART routes in Sussex
Of the 11 routes that operate all year in Sussex, routes 201, 204, 206, 212 and 215 are in the county exclusively; route 210 operates in Milford in two counties; and routes 303 and 307 serve Sussex and Kent counties. Three are flex routes.
Most fixed routes provide service Monday-Friday with limited service on Saturday and no service on Sunday, except on seven routes during the summer season.
DART provides three flex routes and paratransit service in Sussex County. Flex routes include the 901 Georgetown loop, 902 Georgetown to Millsboro loop and 903 Seaford loop. Flex-service riders can schedule pickups up to a mile off the route. The service operates Monday-Friday.
Paratransit service is available on a reservation basis for qualified handicapped riders who must fill out an application and complete an in-person interview. The service provides door-to-door service from riders' homes to their destinations.
From mid-May to mid-September, DART adds daily beach bus service with added hours and more buses on routes 201, 204, 206 and 215.
Three additional routes are added as well: route 203, Route 1 between Lewes Transit Center and Dewey Beach; route 208 between Rehoboth Park-and-Ride and Ocean City, Md.; and route 305 weekends and holidays between Wilmington Amtrak station and Rehoboth Park-and-Ride.
Sara Fuller, a DART marketing specialist, said technology is improving service to DART customers. A mobile app provides all current information on the DART website. In addition, riders can purchase tickets through an app, and a new paratransit app allows riders to find the estimated time their bus will arrive.
“We are focusing more and more on community outreach to get more and more people on the buses,” Fuller said.
DART is operated by the Delaware Transit Corporation, a state agency
More than 70 routes statewide
Statewide in 2018, 7.2 million fixed-route and 926,000 paratransit riders
DART funding: 81 percent state funds; 13 percent passenger fares; 3 percent federal grants; 3 percent advertising