The Bull City Connector changed its route last month in an effort to increase the shuttle service’s appeal among Duke students and faculty.

Changes to the route include the addition of service to Duke Hospital North, the Durham VA Medical Center, Research Drive, Erwin Square and Ninth Street. Service to Trent Drive, Duke Hospital South and the Durham bus station has been stopped, among other changes. The new route is also faster, in part due to the elimination of service to the Durham station. It now services stops every 17 minutes rather than every 20 minutes. The fare-free shuttle service—now in its fifth year of operation—is funded by Duke in partnership with the city of Durham and the GoDurham transit system.

“We wanted to get the bus as far into campus as we could to get easier access for faculty and students,” explained Phail Wynn, vice president for Durham and regional affairs.

Wynn noted that Duke administration has been disappointed with ridership after five years of partnering with the city on the service. He said the goal for the Bull City Connector is to have 2000 to 2500 daily riders with at least 40 percent of the riders having some affiliation to the University as students or faculty.

Because the shuttle is fare-free, University officials have had difficulty tracking its ridership, Wynn explained, noting that it can be difficult to tell what portion of riders are Duke students and faculty versus other Durham locals.

“We want to get as much data as we can so we have a better idea,” Wynn said. “It’s tough to verify whether riders are Duke affiliated—we can estimate from popular stops but that’s a very inexact science.”

The University spent $350,000 to match the contributions of the other local authorities to make the Connector fare-free. Wynn highlighted the significance of sponsoring the Connector as part of Duke’s efforts to foster Durham redevelopment. Even with University sponsoring, he said that a fare may be necessary in the future to accommodate expanded service.

He added that in the next year, the University will reconvene with city officials and discuss the possibility of expanding the Connector to a more circular route that would include other popular student destinations like the Berkshire apartment complex. A more comprehensive route would require greater financial contribution from Duke, the city of Durham, GoDurham and private businesses, Wynn said.

In the meantime, Duke Parking and Transportation Services is trying to make students and faculty aware of the current expansion. Alison Carpenter, transportation demand manager for PTS, noted that her office has updated maps at bus stops on campus with the new routes and has recently introduced the Bull City Connector to the Transloc interface, an app that allows riders to track the buses.

“I hope that these and other efforts will raise awareness of the Bull City Connector and the recent extension to West Campus,” she wrote in an email.