Residents of Harrisburg and two other communities are about to find it a lot easier to get around Cabarrus County.
The county launched its Cabarrus Links van service this week for Harrisburg, Midland and Mount Pleasant that will take riders into Concord and enable them to connect to CK Rider buses that stop in Concord and Kannapolis. The move is designed to let residents in rural areas of the county reach local shopping centers, medical offices and big employers.
Michele Reapsmith, Harrisburg's interim town administrator, praised the expansion.
"I think it'll be very good," she said. "We don't have any public transportation on this side of (N.C.) 49. Hopefully, it'll also bring the traffic down too (since) 49 is pretty congested all day long."
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There are three routes for the service, which runs on weekdays. Depending on the route, riders can end up at Concord Mills mall, the CK Rider transfer hub or Carolina Mall/Carolinas Medical Center-NorthEast.
The vans are debuting after two years of work. The county's public transportation officials met with human service agencies, major employers and educational institutions to find the best way to connect rural residents with other county destinations.
The cost per ride is $1 each way, cash only. CK Rider buses will honor the van ticket as a transfer to the bus with no additional cost.
Officials hope the low cost of the service will be helpful to people who are struggling in the recession. County officials unveiled the vans at a ceremony last week outside of Concord Mills.
Steve Cude, the Cabarrus Links van service project manager, said the $200,000 project is paid for by the county and through a federal matching grant. Initial ridership projections estimate 30 people a day will use the service.
"That doesn't seem like a whole lot," Cude said, adding that few people used CK Rider when it started. Eventually, that bus system caught on and he hopes the same will happen for the van service.
"We're trying to get the word out," he added. "As people learn about it, we hope to have 40, 50 or 60 folks a day, if not more. It's new, and new things take time."
Depending on needs and usage, Cude said, additional stops could be added, as well as Saturday service.
Ed Runte, Cabarrus County vice president for the United Way of Central Carolinas, said extending public transportation was one of the areas of concern from a needs assessment his agency did four years ago.
That need is even more acute now because of the economy, Runte said, adding, "It's such a fundamental topic because it affects everything people are doing."