UNICITY bus to fill gaps in DART route
At the end of the summer, a UNICITY bus will start picking up riders around the Fairfield area who have been using a special DART shuttle to get to the Newark Municipal Building, where they hop on a regular bus to Wilmington.
The change comes as DART prepares to completely phase out that part of the Newark route.
Called “Newark Express,” Route 16 used to pick up riders along Stamford Drive, Cambridge Drive, New London Road, Country Club Drive, Casho Mill Road, Lafayette Road, Dallam Road and Apple Road before stopping at the municipal building on South Main Street and eventually heading to downtown Wilmington.
However, in June, DART suspended Route 16 service to those residential stops due to low ridership and instead started picking up riders at the Newark Transit Hub off Main Street. From there, buses headed to the municipal building, the Newark Train Station, the Park & Ride on South College Avenue and finally to Wilmington.
Since the change, riders who depended on the northern section of the route have been boarding a special shuttle called the “16 Connect” that connects them to the stop at the municipal building. DART has been offering the shuttle as a courtesy until Sept. 2 in order to give the city of Newark time to come up with its own solution.
Last week, council decided to temporarily add the stops to the existing UNICITY bus system, which is a free service provide by the city and the University of Delaware with funding assistance from the state. It will cost the city $6,332 in personnel and $500 in fuel to pick up riders in the Fairfield area from September through the end of the year, at which point council will decide whether or not to extend the service.
City Manager Carol Houck told council on Aug. 8 that there is enough money in the city’s budget to pay for the additional stops.
“I think we can fund it through the end of the year,” Houck said. “If we have a major breakdown of a bus, that could put us over.”
But resident Natasha Ortega, who has been riding the DART bus into Wilmington for almost 10 years, said accom- modating Fairfield residents doesn’t need to cost the city anything. She said riders are willing to carpool to the municipal building in order to catch the bus there, but they need a place to park.
She asked the city to temporarily designate three parking spaces for DART riders, or work with nearby property owners like the Park N Shop across the street for extra parking. That way, the city won’t need to spend the $7,000 to use UNICITY, she said.
“I’m all about saving money as long as we’re all working together,” Ortega said.
She said city officials can work on a more permanent solution in the meantime.
“This will buy us some time to work on this,” she said.
Councilman Luke Chapman, whose district encompasses the Fairfield area, suggested council do both – direct staff to allocate the funds to UNICITY through the end of the year and also pursue the carpooling spots at Park N Shop or the municipal building. Council informally agreed.
On Tuesday, Houck said city staff and UNICITY officials are still working on finalizing a schedule for the new stops.
A Route 16 DART bus stop at the Fairfield Shopping Center showing the new schedule for the “16 connect” shuttle to the Newark Municipal Building. DART will discontinue the shuttle Sept. 2, at which point the UNICITY bus will take over.