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Council approves Votran bus service to Outlet Mall

January 22, 2020

The Volusia County Council gave the green light Tuesday to starting up daily Votran bus service to Tanger Outlet Mall, a major shopping hub and employment center in Daytona Beach. The service is expected to make its launch within 90 days. Council members cheered the news Tuesday after hearing a staff report on how the route change will work. The only question was whether the council wanted to spend the extra $147,840 to include nighttime service.

“Yay, we made it to this point,” said Councilwoman Heather Post, who also noted that the county might need to look at some additional bus needs in the future due to the continuing development around the LPGA corridor. “We also need to be looking ahead at the area. That area out there is growing.”

By splitting off an existing route, the hourly, daytime, seven-days-a-week service to Tanger between 7 a.m.-7 p.m. won’t add any additional cost to the county’s Votran transportation system. The council initially discussed starting with the daytime service only and then evaluating the need to add nighttime service down the road. But County Chair Ed Kelley said he was concerned that evening shoppers, people using the bus to get to the restaurants in the area for dinner and workers who got off later than 7 p.m. wouldn’t have a way to get home if the bus didn’t run at night. And he said the only way to truly evaluate the demand for the new bus route would be to make sure that riders have the option to stay late and catch a bus for the return trip.

“You’re not going to be able to tell how effective it would be if you don’t provide people two-way service,” said Kelley. “I know that we can find the money.”

Kelley’s argument persuaded a majority of the council, which agreed to include nighttime service and then re-evaluate in six months to see how much use the route gets. The daytime service will be hourly every day, while the nighttime service will be Monday through Saturday only with stops at the outlet mall every two hours between 7 p.m.-midnight. While it hasn’t been used until now, a bus stop was built at the outlet mall along Cornerstone Boulevard.

Under the plan rolled out on Tuesday, route 11 – a heavily-utilized route that stretches all the way from Beach Street west to I-95 and the Daytona Flea & Farmers Market – would be extended west of Mason Avenue to add the stop at the Tanger Outlet Mall. The route 11 bus would stop there every hour between Monday-Saturday. Essentially, the route would split in two, with one half serving the flea market and the other bypassing the flea market and instead going to the outlet mall. On Sundays, route 10 – which currently ends at the Volusia Mall – would serve the outlet mall during the day on an hourly basis, with no change in the frequency of the stops. In 2018, service along route 11 was enhanced with more frequent, half-hour stops. In order to add daytime stops at the Tanger Outlet Mall with no additional cost, the stop at the flea market would return to hourly service along with the hourly service to the outlet mall. The 30-minute service along the rest of the route would remain unchanged.

County officials have said that the 2018 increase in the frequency of service along route 11 was key to this new proposal to serve the Tanger Outlet Mall because of the buses and drivers that were added to the route. Without those additional resources, the county was facing an approximately $900,000 price tag to start up bus service to the outlet mall back in 2016 when Tanger opened.

“Two years ago, you all made a substantial investment in this particular route,” said Dona Butler, who as the county’s community services director oversees Votran.

With the daytime service coming with no additional expense, the council essentially decided that the $147,840 per-year to include nighttime service was worth the added cost. But council members made it clear that they will reconsider if the new bus route doesn’t get a lot of use.

“I think we need to put a caveat in that after six months time or a year’s time, probably six months, if the ridership isn’t there late at night that we look at doing away with it – not just running it to be running it,” said Council member Ben Johnson. “It would be great if you could, but we still have to look after the taxpayers’ money.”

“I agree,” added Kelley. “If nobody’s riding it, you obviously don’t want to have it.”

The new service is expected to start up within 90 days. That will give Votran time to change and print new route maps and conduct a public education campaign to make residents aware of the new service and route changes.