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TARC looks to improve bus reliability with changes over the next year

A TARC sign hangs on the side of a stone building.
Jacob Munoz
LPM News
TARC is beginning a multi-phase plan over the next year aimed at improving bus reliability.

The Transit Authority of River City is launching several updates it hopes will reduce rider uncertainty about when buses will show up. The Louisville agency plans to roll out the changes through next fall.

TARC had about 29,000 scheduled bus trips in September, according to agency data, covering the planned stops on a route. About 0.75% of those trips didn’t happen.

Carrie Butler, TARC’s executive director, said even small amounts of bus unreliability can affect riders.

“Let's say you're 99% on time, but that 1% is an impact for people. They feel like it's worse,” Butler said.

Those absent buses, along with the current number of TARC drivers, have prompted the agency to make changes. The updates will take place in phases, according to plans shared by TARC.

In the first phase, which is already underway, the agency is having bus operator trainers cover short, busy shifts as part of their work. It’s also trying to improve its text alert system to notify riders when a normally scheduled bus run is likely to be canceled.

Trainers would help cover for bus driver shortages. Butler said TARC has about 335 operators.

“On any given day, we can have a mismatch between available operators and our scheduled work shifts,” Butler said.

TARC has 10 part-time training instructors and nearly 4,900 phone numbers registered in its text alert system, according to Alex Posorske, its director of marketing and communications.

The second phase of improvements is scheduled for January. The agency plans to adjust workdays for drivers by eliminating shorter shifts in favor of longer ones. Posorke said it would help operators more easily accumulate hours on the job.

Two more phases would roll out later in 2024. TARC plans to make schedule adjustments in the summer based on its available drivers. It also expects to revise more shifts, similar to January’s changes.

Next fall, the agency looks to upgrade hardware to better communicate bus availability to riders.

TARC had about 580,000 riders in September, marking a continued growth in ridership compared to Sept. 2021 and 2022. But it’s still lower than pre-pandemic levels.

Butler said while work-from-home policies have changed how residents use public transit, the agency is still critical for other workers who don’t have that option.

“We want to make their experience great, you know, [and] make the bus come when it needs to, when they're expecting it to arrive, to get them where they need to go,” Butler said.

The on-time rate of TARC buses, which Butler said is determined by internal software, was 73% in September, several percentage points lower than in Sept. 2022.

Jacob is LPM's Business and Development Reporter. Email Jacob at jmunoz@lpm.org.

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