Southeast Raleigh community leaders, who are raising equity issues around the fare-free, tax-supported R-Line bus that serves downtown shoppers and tourists, have gotten the ear of state Transportation Secretary Tony Tata in their campaign to block a planned increase in the bus fares paid by other Capital Area Transit riders.
The Raleigh Transit Authority is expected Thursday to approve an Oct. 1 start date for the first CAT fare hike since 2007. The base cash fare is set to rise from $1 to $1.25, and a 31-day pass will go from $36 to $45.
But a state DOT spokesman said Wednesday that Tata believes that CAT critics Octavia Rainey and Danny Coleman have raised “some valid questions” about the R-Line.
“He agreed to broker a discussion between all parties, so the community could be heard on thoughts and concerns about the R-Line and possible connections to the new downtown grocery store and other parts of Southeast Raleigh,” DOT Deputy Secretary Mike Charbonneau said.
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Rainey contends that the burden of a fare increase will fall unfairly on low-income African-American residents who depend on public transportation and make up most of CAT’s ridership. City officials are considering expanding the R-Line downtown circulator bus route to include the upscale Cameron Village area.
Coleman has suggested routing it in the opposite direction to Southeast Raleigh. Former State Budget Director Art Pope recently announced a Roses variety store and grocery will be opened there at the former site of a Kroger supermarket.
Rainey and David Eatman, Raleigh’s transit administrator, said they would meet next week in the DOT office of Debbie Collins, the state public transportation director. Tata will take part in the talks, Charbonneau said.
Tata, Coleman and Rainey “have a strong working relationship” dating from Tata’s time as Wake County school superintendent, Charbonneau said. Rainey said she had asked Tata to get involved in the CAT issue.
“I asked the secretary to look at this issue of the fare increase, the R-Line being a free bus, and to look at the equity issue and make sure we don’t have any federal or state dollars involved with this,” Rainey said. The city spends $800,000 a year for the R-Line.
The Raleigh Transit Authority approved the CAT fare increases earlier this year and said it also planned to raise its rates again in 2016. CAT officials have said they want to expand bus service on several routes, and to help offset increases in operating expenses.
Eatman said he had hoped to make the new rates effective next week, when the three-county Triangle Transit also will increase fares for most of its riders.
“We would like to have been at the same time as Triangle Transit, but they were able to move forward a little quicker than we were,” Eatman said. Staff writer Colin Campbell contributed.