Concord launches new transit center

The Concord Kannapolis Area Transit opened its new state-of-the-art Rider Transit Center on Monday.

In addition to the new $2.8 million facility on South Ridge Avenue near U.S. 29 and Interstate 85, more than 70 bus stops will be added and service areas have been expanded to better serve riders throughout Concord and Kannapolis.

Most of upgrades to the 6-year-old Rider system focus on better customer service and bus accessibility, but there's also the opportunity to make the riding experience physically more comfortable, said Lawrence "L.J." Weslowski Jr., 37, who was hired as the transit manager but has been with Concord Kannapolis Area Transit since 2004.

"Our former location was two bus shelters on a strip of sidewalk about a mile away, and that's all we've had for six years," said Weslowski. "I think the great thing is (this new facility) gives a real sense of permanence to the system. It shows the city is truly invested in this. This is going to be our nexus for growth in the future."

Frequent riders of The Blue Route can now meet at the transit center. Before the new central location was built, riders had to make double transfers and spend extra time riding the bus.

"By centralizing even better than it was, The Blue Route now will meet directly with all the other routes here, and that will eliminate an hour of riding a day, minimum, for people that live on The Blue Route and have tried to get to the core of the system," said Weslowski.

Rider service began in April 2004 and served 146,000 passengers that year. It surpassed 1 million total passengers in August 2007 and 2 million in March 2010.

About 415,000 passengers were served in its peak year of in 2008. Regional connections with other transit systems, such as Amtrak, CATS Express, Rowan Express and Cabarrus Links, also have been made over the years. Biodiesel fuel and Saturday service also have been added.

When the economy got bad, there was a slump in ridership, but Weslowski said they are on target to serve 390,000-plus passengers this year, and that's a sign the local economy is slowly strengthening.

Before this center was built, passengers had to use two roadside bus shelters. There were no restrooms, and customer service representatives could be reached only by phone.

Now a full-time customer service agent and the transit manger will work on-site, helping customers with route and schedule information, tickets and passes.

A redesigned webpage also launched Monday.

The webpage offers real-time updates and alerts, which passengers can subscribe to on their cell phones or via e-mail, to get information about service delays, detours, holiday schedules or special events.

Each bus also is equipped with a Automatic Vehicle Location device. Buses will be assigned specific bays so passengers will know where a particular route is located.

The Rider Transit Center also is the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) government building in Cabarrus County. Officials are hopeful it will be designated for gold-level LEED certification for "green" building features, such as the use of natural light, bricks made with recycled content and the use of other recycled, renewable resources and regionally produced materials.

Stormwater management pluses include additional plants, trees and other landscaping, the use of a rain garden instead of a traditional settling pond and a "green roof."