No good deed should go unnoticed, so kudos to Neal Davis, head of the Johnston County Area Transit System. Thanks to conservative spending and winter storms that temporarily idled JCATS vans, Mr. Davis has money to offer more rides to more people.
But that money will run out in June, likely forcing JACTS to begin saying no again to many ride requests – unless this year’s perfect storm of conservative spending and bad weather repeats itself next fiscal year.
To his credit, Mr. Davis has a Plan B, which is allowing county and town governments, businesses, churches and others to contract with JCATS, just like human service agencies do now. We hope that plan works because Johnston County residents who wish to ride JCATS ought to be able to do so without being on Medicaid.
We don’t pretend to know in detail the economics of public transportation in Johnston County, but it seems to us that JCATS would benefit from the more rides that Mr. Davis wishes he could offer. In particular, it seems to us the agency could increase revenue and charge more-realistic but still cheap fares if it welcomed more riders.
A trip from, say, Smithfield to Clayton has largely fixed costs: the driver’s salary and the debt service on the van, primarily. No doubt, fuel costs would rise as the van stopped more often to pick up more people along the way. Still, it’s obvious that the Smithfield-to-Clayton fare would generate more money with 15 riders as opposed to one.
And we happen to think JCATS could increase ridership while also raising current fares, which come no where close to covering the actual cost of a trip. JCATS says the average round trip costs it $17 – a cost that would fall with more riders, by the way. And yet JCATS charges the general public just $2 each way on that $17 trip. Could Johnston County charge $4 one way or $5 and still increase the number of riders? Some Johnston residents who have been denied rides have told this newspaper they would gladly pay more. Even at $10 or $15 a round trip, JCATS would still be lower than a taxi ride in many cases.
We’re sure Mr. Davis has at least asked himself these questions, and he might be tempted to say yes to more riders while experimenting with fares. But Mr. Davis is wise also to seek the revenue guarantees that more contracts would provide.
We wish him luck, but we’d also encourage him to be even more daring if need be.