Council unable to reach consensus on park-n-ride fee

Mar. 25, 2013 @ 11:37 PM

The Town Council on Monday temporarily tabled a proposal to begin charging motorists a fee to use three of the town’s park-n-ride lots.

Unable to reach consensus on whether town residents not affiliated with UNC who catch Triangle Transit Authority (TTA) buses from the Eubanks Road park-n-ride lot should pay the new fee, the council took no action on the proposal and agreed to take it up again April 10.

Under the proposal, motorists who use the town’s lots would pay $2 daily, $21 monthly or $250 per year, and passes sold by UNC to its employees would be honored at town lots.

“Triangle Transit staff are certain that if there’s the kinds of fees we are talking are put on that lot (it)  will negatively affect their ridership,” said Mayor Pro Tem Ed Harrison.

An estimated 50 to 70 TTA riders would be affected by the plan. The town would lose about $17,500 in revenue if those riders were not charged to park.

Triangle Transit provides regional bus and van service throughout the Triangle.

Council member Matt Czajkowski said the town should not subsidize parking for TTA riders.

 “To me, effectively the cost of providing park-n-ride is a part of providing the TTA service,” Czajkowski said. “So, somebody’s got to pay for it, and if it’s not the TTA riders, let’s let it be TTA.”

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said he is concerned about charging town taxpayers who already make a contribution to maintain those lots through their tax dollars.

“We’ve created a culture in which we’ve encouraged people to use transit locally and regionally, and now we’re telling them we didn’t really mean the regional.”

Councilwoman Sally Greene said people are turned off when they are charged for services they have been receiving for free, no matter how much the charge.

 “Within a certain range it doesn’t matter how much you charge, it’s the fact that you start charging,” Greene said. “It’s kind of like people will drive to Southpoint [Mall] and spend a ton of gas money rather than park on Franklin Street where you have to pay because its free parking.”

Green said providing free parking for residents not affiliated with UNC would help get more cars off the road, which is a larger goal of the town. 

If the fee measure is approved, the town would begin to charge parking fees for the lots in August to coincide with UNC’s also beginning to charge motorists’ who use its park-n-ride lots.

The town, university and the Town of Carrboro are partners in Chapel Hill Transit and share the cost to operate Chapel Hill’s fare-free transit system.

The discussion to move to a fee system for park-n-ride lots began in 2010 and is a response to the rising cost to operate the transit system and a reduction in federal and state funding.

The fee is expected to raise about $150,000 for the town and more than $500,000 for UNC next fiscal year.

UNC is the largest contributor to Chapel Hill Transit. The university’s contribution to the transit system is expected to be about $7.4 million in fiscal year 2013-14, about 60 percent of the local contribution to the system’s more than $18.6 million operating budget.

The town’s share is expected to be about $3.7 million, a little more than 30 percent, and Carrboro’s portion is projected to be $1.3 million, about 10.5 percent of the system’s operating budget.