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Bus to connect Duke, Durham

Durham’s newest project will provide a physical link between the city and its largest employer.

Starting August 16, the Bull City Connector will provide transportation for both Dukies and Durhamites with six new hybrid/diesel buses running six days a week from the Duke Clinics on West Campus to the city’s downtown.

The bus will seek to encourage students to take advantage of Durham’s downtown. Anant Jha, a rising sophomore from Minnesota, said he didn’t go into Durham “much at all” his freshman year but would look forward to exploring what the city has to offer this year and take advantage of the bus route.

Sunny Frothingham, an incoming freshman from Durham, said she feels the bussing service is a good example of how Duke has helped Durham’s community develop in recent years. The Bull City Connector will make it possible for her classmates to become acquainted with a city she already knows well, she added.

“Recently, Durham’s downtown has been majorly revitalized,” she said, citing the Tobacco District and the Durham Performing Arts Center. “I will definitely take advantage of [the buses]… and it’s definitely something Duke students should take advantage of.”

Unfortunately for freshmen, however, the service will not have a stop at East Campus because the new buses will be too tall and too wide to access the campus, said Phail Wynn, vice president for Durham and regional affairs. But the Bull City Connector will still have several stops on Main Street next to East that will allow freshmen to access the route.

The initiative is part of a larger effort by the University to engage with the Durham community and encourage students to interact with the city.

“We need to really open up the opportunity for students to explore all of the city,” said Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield, who manages the City Council. “That’s why I was such a pusher to get the Bull City [Connector] going.... It will hopefully make downtown Durham more attractive to Duke students, especially at night.”

Of course, Duke undergraduates will not be the only passengers on the new bus line. The high frequency connection will also help city residents get around downtown, Bonfield said.

From Duke’s perspective, the initiative is attractive because of its ability to provide a service to both groups, Wynn said. Students can get further into Durham, and employees will have a convenient means to get from downtown to campus.

The Bull City Connector was made possible by financial investments by both the University and Durham. Duke provided the city with $375,000 in matching funds, making Durham eligible to receive $3 million in federal stimulus money to purchase the six new hybrid-diesel buses. Until the new models arrive in late 2011 or early 2012, the service will utilize hybrid DATA buses already in circulation.

Under the contract, Duke will provide roughly one-third of the operating costs of the service going forward, Wynn said. Although some City Council members originally objected to the fact that the bus’s route did not include North Carolina Central University—whose administration did not provide funding—the agreement passed the City Council unanimously June 21.

The bus service will not pass through the NCCU campus, but DATA is offering a special bus service, the R5, which will connect NCCU students to downtown free of charge, said Ieshia Robertson, public affairs specialist for the Durham Area Transit Authority.

The Bull City Connector is scheduled to make stops every 15 minutes Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and every 20 minutes from 6 p.m. to midnight. On Saturdays, the buses will make stops every 20 minutes from 7 a.m. to midnight. The buses will not run on Sundays. The service will have 32 stops in all, said Robertson.

The extent to which Duke students will take advantage of the bus remains unclear. But to Leila Dal Santo, Trinity ’10 and a Durham native, the move is a step in the right direction.

“I’ve been here about a decade and I have literally seen Durham flourish,” she said, citing the city’s renowned dining scene in particular. “I’m really impressed with the bus... it means that Duke students can really experience what Durham is all about.”

Indu Ramesh contributed reporting.

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