The City of Huntsville’s transit service is getting a big makeover – in more ways than one.
Starting Thursday, July 16, Huntsville Shuttle will become Orbit, a brand that honors our storied past while looking ahead to the future.
“It’s been over nine years since the last Space Shuttle launch,” said John Autry, manager of public transportation for the City. “We believe the new Orbit brand keeps the tradition of Huntsville as a space and rocket city while providing a more modern look and feel that’s consistent with our plans for future expansion.”
Along those same lines, the City’s paratransit service, previously called HandiRide, will become Access Huntsville. Officials hope this move will make Huntsville Transit more welcoming and inclusive of all citizens who rely on the service to get around town.
The rebrand is exciting for the City, but Autry said the effort is more than new colors and logos.
“It’s also better, easier-to-read signage and easier-to-understand customer information,” he said. “It’s safer, more attractive bus stops and a new web page for customers.”
The back story
In 2018, the City hired Nelson Nygaard, a California planning firm, to take a comprehensive look at Huntsville’s transit system. The $90,000 Nelson Nygaard Transit Study resulted in a new five-phase Transit Improvement Plan with several key goals:
- Increase ridership in Huntsville through service frequency improvements
- Simplify bi-directional routing
- Reduce overall trip times
- Consolidate bus stops
- Offer bus stop improvements and amenities
- Lower the monthly ride pass cost
- Deliver real-time “next bus” information via a smart phone app
- Create a more intuitive, useful website
With the implementation of the Transit Improvement Plan, transit managers, City planners, and consultants believe now is the “perfect” time to start a new chapter for Huntsville’s transit services.
“Everything we do – it’s not just about adding buses and adding service,” Autry said. “It’s also about making the service we do provide better and easier to use.”
The City implemented the first phase of the improvement plan in July 2019. That included:
- A new fixed-route bus network eliminating 37 low-ridership segments and replacing four one-way loop routes with straighter, more efficient bi-directional service
- A new North Huntsville Transit Hub as a transfer station for Routes 7, 8, and 10 at 26 minutes after each hour
- Extended weekday evening hours from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
- New Saturday service from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
- Expanded paratransit service and days/hours of operation
- Launch of Route Shout 2.0, a new mobile app
The second phase expanded Route 1 to 30-minute service frequency and reduced the unlimited ride pass from $38 to $30 per month.
Everything we do – it’s not just about adding buses and adding service. It’s also about making the service we do provide better and easier to use.”
Autry said ridership has jumped in the last 12 months. He expects continued progress as Huntsville’s population grows and more people learn about transit system improvements.
“I think Huntsville is unique in the priority that leadership has placed on quality of life for its citizens and I’m pleased Huntsville Transit is a part of that,” Autry said.
‘A beautiful service’
Vallesha Coleman has been riding Huntsville’s paratransit service for over a year. Once a week, the bus for elderly and disabled residents picks her up at her home so she can go to the grocery store or an appointment.
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Coleman uses an electric scooter and requires a ramp to get on and off the bus. She said Huntsville Transit is a “beautiful service” that makes life easier for her and her family.
If it wasn’t for (Huntsville Access), people like me wouldn’t be able to get in and out into the world and do things they need to do.”
“I’m grateful for it because if it wasn’t for (Huntsville Access), people like me wouldn’t be able to get in and out into the world and do things they need to do,” she said.
As Huntsville grows its transportation network, the City’s Manager of Urban and Long-Range Planning Dennis Madsen said Huntsville Transit is a key part of that endeavor.
“One of the most exciting aspects of this effort has been the expansion of our transit services,” he said. “We’re in the early phases of the planning, but a more extensive and more accessible transit network will be one of the single-most positive impacts on growth in our region.”