Chapel Hill delays vote, asks Triangle Transit to pay

tgrubb@newsobserver.comMarch 26, 2013 

— The Town Council delayed approval of a $250 annual park-and-ride fee Monday to ask Triangle Transit for a contribution since its riders also use town-owned lots.

The council postponed its vote to April 10. If approved, the fee would be charged at most town-owned lots starting Aug. 15.

Council member Ed Harrison, the town’s representative on the Triangle Transit Board of Trustees, offered to take the proposal to the group’s meeting Tuesday.

Triangle Transit benefits when drivers park in town-owned lots and pay to ride its buses to Durham and Raleigh, council members said. Council member Matt Czajkowski suggested that providing those drivers with parking is part of Triangle Transit’s cost of providing its service.

“It seems to me what we’re really seeing here is the sort of tip of iceberg with TTA service ... If it’s part of TTA service, I don’t see any reason why TTA shouldn’t pay for it. Therefore, to me, the dispute between riders who don’t want to pay and having somebody pay for it is between TTA and the riders, not between us and the riders,” he said.

Triangle Transit staff think at least 70 of their riders park in the Eubanks Road park-and-ride lot, Harrison said. However, council members expressed concerns about charging more fees to drivers who pay $4 round trip to ride Triangle Transit buses and who also might pay taxes that support Chapel Hill Transit.

The town should confirm the number of riders and ask Triangle Transit to pay those fees, Council member Jim Ward suggested. The annual cost for 70 riders would be $17,500, based on the annual fee being proposed. The town could negotiate a different amount with Triangle Transit.

“Chapel Hill Transit is a huge financial commitment by our community of Carrboro, UNC and Chapel Hill, and it needs to find revenue sources where it makes sense,” Ward said. “It’s not a large one, but it’s a rational one, and I hope we can turn this conversation around and identify Triangle Transit as an appropriate entity to help defray some of those costs for their riders.”

Brian Litchfield, Chapel Hill Transit’s interim director, proposed the $250 park-and-ride fee in January. Drivers also could choose to pay $2 per day or $21 per month.

The change would raise money for Chapel Hill Transit and match a similar fee that UNC is adding to its park-and-ride lots in August, Litchfield said.

If the town does not charge a fee, more UNC students and employees could park in town lots rather than buy a UNC permit, he said. UNC-affiliated drivers already make up the majority of those using town-owned lots, he said. Because of those drivers, UNC already agreed to pay an extra $150,000 annually toward upkeep on parking spaces that its students and employees use in town-owned lots, said Brian Litchfield, Chapel Hill Transit’s interim director.

UNC’s sliding-scale fee will average $250 annually and is part of a five-year plan to cover a $6.5 million shortfall in the university’s transportation and parking budget. UNC uses some of that money to pay 60 percent of Chapel Hill Transit’s local budget, Litchfield said. Chapel Hill pays 30 percent, and Carrboro, 10 percent.

Litchfield said the town would pay about $128,000 to install signs and pay stations, hire part-time employees and repaint the park-and-ride lots. The annual operating cost would be $69,000, and annual revenues are estimated at $162,000 with UNC’s contribution, he said.

There might be additional costs to enforce free parking lots in downtown Carrboro and to add security cameras to park-and-ride lots, he said.

If the fee is approved, it would apply to at least three town-owned lots: Eubanks Road, Southern Village and Jones Ferry Road. Drivers at the Carrboro Plaza lot on N.C. 54 also might pay the fee, but the shopping center owners are not on board yet, Litchfield said.

The Town Council also is considering whether to establish 16 neighborhood parking districts to keep drivers from parking on nearby streets instead of paying a fee. Residents would pay $25 a year for an on-street parking permit, Litchfield said.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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