Bus fare increase to fund expanded service, not budget gap

08/01/2014 6:12 PM

08/01/2014 6:14 PM

Capital Area Transit officials plan to use revenue from an upcoming fare hike to expand service on holidays and perhaps add a new route.

The proposal differs from the rationale CAT offered on its website and in public hearings on the fare increase – that the additional revenue was needed to close a “growing gap” in funding as salary, maintenance and fuel costs rise.

CAT director David Eatman recently told the Raleigh Transit Authority that it must decide what to do with more than $300,000 in new revenue this fiscal year. “Exactly how do we want to spend those dollars?” he said. “While this fare increase is going to do a lot for us, we still can’t do everything we want to do by any stretch of the imagination.”

Octavia Rainey, a southeast Raleigh activist who’s been a vocal opponent of the fare increase, said the plans contradict the reasons she was given for the fare increase. “They’ll tell you one thing and they’ll do another thing,” she said. “There’s no honesty coming out of Capital Area Transit at all.”

Asked about the discrepancy, Eatman said that service improvements will come with increased operating costs. But he said that if the fare hike hadn’t been approved, CAT could continue its current schedule without any additional funding. “We wouldn’t have to cut service if we didn’t have a fare increase,” he said.

The top priority is to run buses on four holidays that currently have no bus service: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, July 4 and Labor Day. CAT likely would operate on its scaled-back Sunday schedule at a cost of about $100,000.

“Additional holiday service is something that we get comments on,” Eatman said. “Many jobs these days don’t observe traditional holidays. Certainly our riders’ employment is our No. 1 trip purpose.”

The bus system would still shut down on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The remaining $200,000 in fare revenue could be used to offer additional buses and more frequent service to popular routes like Route 2 on Falls of Neuse Road or Route 7 on South Saunders Street. Or it could go toward extending a bus line down Rock Quarry Road in Southeast Raleigh to Barwell Road. That route currently turns around at Sanderford Road.

Peter Gilbert, an attorney-fellow at the UNC Center for Civil Rights, said that bus riders would likely benefit from the additional service. But he said the improvements shouldn’t require a fare increase while downtown’s R-Line route remains free at an annual cost to the city of $1 million.

“If we need to expand service, the way to pay for that is to charge the tourists or the people visiting the bars in Glenwood South the same as everybody else,” he said.

The Raleigh Transit Authority will discuss the possible service expansion at its August meeting.

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