A dwindling federal revenue source has the towns of Wendell and Zebulon targeted for extra financial burden to maintain current levels of the bus service that shuttles riders to and from Raleigh each day.
Finance chiefs from both towns are expected to meet with transit leaders from Raleigh and Wake County on Wednesday to discuss other possible funding sources that may help bridge the gap, and the possibility of reducing the scope of the Zebulon-Wendell Express service.
Wendell and Zebulon hold an equal-share financial obligation to GoTriangle, formerly Triangle Transit, for the route that makes three runs to Raleigh in the morning and three back to eastern Wake in the afternoon. It is estimated the towns will each pay about $14,500 for the service for year ending June 30.
A federal Job Access and Reverse Commute grant that covers half the cost of the route is expected to expire halfway through the upcoming fiscal year, however, and as a result the towns are being asked to pay $22,000 for the year ahead.
“It is going to be more difficult for us to go up (in cost) with the bus plan,” said Wendell Town Manager Teresa Piner. “It is a strain for us.
“We’ve been looking at ways to keep the bus going. What we had hoped is we would have more information from the county at this point; they had been talking several years about the transportation plan and sales tax (assisting), and it’s gone on much longer than we thought it would.”
Worth the trip?
Piner said it is her understanding there has been enough ridership to merit keeping the current service levels. She said it would be a shame for ridership to build momentum only to stall, echoing past comments by Zebulon Commissioner Beverly Clark that the bus service will become more effective the longer it is offered.
Zebulon leaders, at a meeting in April, asked Finance Director Bobby Fitts to obtain updated ridership figures from GoTriangle during their meeting this week.
“They want us to explore the option of if we eliminate one trip ... like the least-popular trip, how much would that save,” Fitts said.
The average number of daily riders getting on and off a bus in Zebulon from July to October of 2014 was 40, Fitts said.
Not all on board, yet
Zebulon Commissioner Curtis Strickland, who has long argued ridership figures do not justify his town’s commitment even at the current cost, continues to doubt the need for the current level of service.
“It may be in the future, but I just don’t think it’s feasible right now. There’s not enough riders – it’s simple,” Strickland said.
Strickland admitted it may have been at one of the least-popular trip times early in the morning, but said he has seen a ZWX bus in Raleigh carrying a single passenger.
“One person on a bus that big,” he asked. “It’s just a bus to nowhere in my opinion.
“Is it people can’t afford gas? That’s not the situation; if it was, you’d see four or five people in every car on the way to Raleigh. You don’t see that, you see one person in every car.”
Strickland also argues there’s no way of knowing who is taking advantage of the bus service.
“I don’t know how many of those people come out of the county and it’s the people of Zebulon paying for the service, not the county,” he said. “... We need to get involved with Wendell and do a study on is it feasible.”
Piner said if Zebulon leaders are looking for changes to the bus service, Wendell will have to coordinate with them.
“If Zebulon is concerned, we need to know those concerns and our board would like to know what those are,” she said.