On Tuesday, buses will begin traveling a new route — No. 7 — into west Killeen; and during January and February, passengers will ride free.
The 18-mile loop will connect previously unserviced areas of the city to the region’s mass transportation system, the HOP buses run by the Hill Country Transit Authority.
Buses will stop every hour along the route, which encircles an area outlined by State Highway 195, State Highway 201, Clear Creek Road and Stan Schlueter Loop.
Riders will be able to access several important locations on the new route, including Metroplex Hospital, Texas A&M University-Central Texas, the Killeen-Fort Hood airport and Central Texas College, said Robert Ator, director of urban operations for Hill Country Transit.
No. 7 buses will share connections with route No. 5 on Elms Road near Palo Alto Middle School and route No. 100 near Metroplex.
The route will operate weekdays between 5:08 a.m. and 5:39 p.m. It will not be available on weekends.
Planning and executing the new route was a huge challenge, Ator said.
“It’s a long, long route, and we want to see whether it will generate the ridership or not,” Ator said.
Unlike many of the other HOP routes, No. 7 travels through the fastest growing section of the city, and for several sections, buses will pass several miles without a stop.
No shelters have been built, as the bus provider is waiting to see where, if any, shelters are necessary.
“At this point, we haven’t identified any spots that need to have shelters,” Ator said. “We want to wait and see how successful the route is. Because sometimes (passengers) surprise us where they will show up.”
In November, the Killeen City Council approved a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation to build a 1.35-mile hike and bike trail between Watercrest and West Elms roads, parallel to Robinett Road. The new route will stop near the newly proposed trail.
“(The trail) will cross Robinett almost exactly where we will be stopping,” Ator said.
The Hill Country Transit Authority provides HOP service to nine counties in Central Texas and operates both rural and urban routes with stops in Copperas Cove, Temple, Belton, Killeen and Harker Heights.
The HOP operates 13 fixed-routes in Killeen, including one express route.