Jan. 26--It's 8:30 a.m. on a Wednesday morning on a Jacksonville Transit bus.
Five people are scattered around on the blue seats. The only thing breaking the silence is a revving motor and squealing brakes.
This is the daily routine of 56-year-old John Workman, a former Army solider, as he starts his day with a ride to the Onslow Fitness gym.
"It keeps me healthy," Workman said. "When you get inactive, you start gaining weight. I want to maintain the weight I've got."
Workman said he moved down to Jacksonville from Reading, Pa., four months ago looking for "change of pace" and a less stressful lifestyle. For Workman, his morning bus ride is often a pleasant, convenient experience.
"It takes me where I need to go and drops me back off at home," Workman said. "It's always on time and the people I've met on the bus, from the drivers to the passengers, have been very nice."
Starting Monday, Jan. 27, passengers like Workman will be have nearly two hours more per day to take the bus. Currently, the buses run from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. When the hours are extended, the last stop will be at 7:55 p.m. The transit will also provide hourly stops at Onslow Memorial Hospital, according to information from the city.
Anthony Prinz, transportation services administrator, said that the decision was made to extend the hours because many passengers work later than 6 p.m.
"(It was) a minor tweak to the system we needed to make," he said.
Also starting that day, the in-town routes will provide westbound service starting at 6:42 a.m., allowing passengers to get to Coastal Carolina Community College and downtown Jacksonville before 8 a.m.
"A lot of folks work along this corridor and need to get to work by 8," Prinz said.
But those aren't the only changes coming.
The city is also considering a new route that will run across Jacksonville from Yopp Road to Coastal Carolina Community College and the Jacksonville Mall, Prinz said. The route would also stop on Hargett Street, Country Club Road, in the downtown Jacksonville area and in the Georgetown Road area.
Prinz said there is not a set roll-out date but the city hopes to order two new buses, which cost $100,000 each. Once the buses arrive -- they take about six months to build -- the route would become available.
He said that the bus primarily serves those going to Coastal Carolina Community College, to and from work, and to and from Camp Lejeune.
"We provide a very valuable service to them," he said.
The Jacksonville Transit runs two daily routes in Jacksonville that primarily hits Western Boulevard and Henderson Drive. An express service on the weekend features fewer stops from base to town.
"All of these routes converge around the Jacksonville Mall," Prinz said.
Prinz said that the transit was never meant to be a moneymaking operation for the city but was created as a partnership between the city, Federal Transit Administration and N.C. Department of Transportation.
"Before the system was created, Jacksonville was the largest municipality in North Carolina without a transit service," he said.
Passengers increased 23,243 from November 2008 to June 2009, the first numbers available; and 47,502 from July 2009 to June 2010 to 95,006 since July 2013, according to data from the city.
During the 2012-13 fiscal year, the total operating cost was $792,218 with federal funds paying 50 percent and the N.C. Department of Transportation and City of Jacksonville each paying 25 percent, according to information provided by the city. During the same time period, fares paid $145,933.
The transit, which only accepts cash payment, costs $1.25 for adults and 60-cents for youth, seniors and people with disabilities for the routes within Jacksonville City Limits. Children under 6 years old ride for free. Routes from area bases, including Camp Lejeune and New River Air Station, cost $3. Passengers are asked to pay in exact change since drivers do not carry change.
Drivers will announce stops or major intersections during the transit ride and schedules are also posted and available on the buses.