Wendell and Zebulon leaders are wrestling with a difficult question to answer.
For the past several years now, residents have had access to public transportation through a multi-agency agreement that provides bus service between the two towns and Raleigh. Three times in the morning and three times in the evening the buses pick up and drop off riders from this part of the county. Ridership has grown over that time, though it’s fair to say not every seat is filled on every trip.
And now, as local elected leaders try to nail down operating budgets for the next year, they have to figure out whether to pay for the service at a time when grant funding is ending. And in an effort to ease that burden, town and regional transportation officials met this week to look for ways to reduce the existing funding request to a more manageable level.
The service is expensive for local governments, in part because towns and the regional transportation organization recently re-dubbed GoRaleigh want to make the service affordable for those who need it.
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As GoRaleigh tries to figure out how to replace the grant money, they’ve turned to the towns and asked them to increase their financial contribution. TTA would take on an additional share of the burden as well.
There is doubt in some corners about the value of the service. But let’s be clear. The service has an exceedingly high value for those who need it. And whether we actually ride the bus or not, we all need mass transit options because they make the roads safer and easier to navigate for everyone else.
And as Wake County continues to grow more dense, the need for vehicles that carry a lot of us at once will only increase.
So, consider it an investment in the future. Should Wendell and Knightdale decided to stop playing, take their balls and go home, it will be much more difficult to reboot the service in years to come. In fact, it likely wouldn’t happen until GoRaleigh officials know there is enough demand to fill every seat on every trip. That would leave Wendell and Zebulon residents out in the cold for a long time to come while the rest of Wake County jumps into the transportation game in even bigger ways.
We understand that municipal dollars are limited and it’s not practical to thrown money at every new idea that comes along. We understand, too, that more than ever, Wendell and Zebulon are feeling the budget crunch. Governments were the last group to feel the pinch of the recession. And as the last ones in, they will also be the last ones out.
Commissioners would do well to look at more than just current demand and consider future needs.
If they do that, we believe they will see bus service as a good value.