Broken promise may help transit shortfall
We wouldn't blame you for feeling like tugging the stop request cord right about now.
Given that the city's Durham Area Transit Authority stands to lose $1.5 million a year next fiscal year and beyond, maybe riding a bicycle or walking sound much more palatable.
It's yet another casualty of General Assembly transit subsidy cuts, coupled with the expiration of federal grants that have sustained the Bull City Connector.
That's the other sharp edge of the federal funding sword. It may be gratifying to see those dollars pour in to get the service started, but when that well goes dry, the money has to come from somewhere if the city hopes to maintain what it has built.
And if the state subsidies get slashed too, then we're relying on fares to make up the gap – and that's not happening.
(Our amateur calculus suggests that DATA might bring in about $1.5 million more each year if 4,250 more passengers bought at least one single-trip ticket every day for a year.)
Failing that, as The Herald-Sun's Ray Gronberg reported on Saturday, the City Council is considering a few other options:
- Boosting fares, perhaps up to $1.50 in 2015, which might tend to hurt ridership numbers – not to mention low-income residents who rely on the buses for mobility.
- Cutting service, maybe after 9 p.m., but a quarter of DATA's customers need the bus to reach their night jobs.
- Raising property taxes about six-tenths of a cent per $100 of assessed value, which may prove unpopular with taxpayers who don't rely on the bus system.
The city's got to do something, the way Mayor Bill Bell sees it: “I believe firmly public transit is almost a mandate, to a certain extent, for local governments.”
It's certainly a critical service, valued by many, even if it's not able to generate enough revenue to cover costs.
They do have the option of raising annual vehicle-registration fees by $7 to fund public transit. Money that had been intended for new and expanded service. Funds that would eventually help build a light-rail line linking Durham and Chapel Hill. It wasn't meant to subsidize what we've already got.
If council members go after those fees, they'll need the blessing of the County Commission.
We'd rather see those fees spent the way they were promised. But if it helps stop DATA's fiscal hemorrhaging without raising fares or slashing services until the city finds a better way to fill that gap, we see little choice.
It's a promise worth breaking.