GREENSBORO — The Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation (PART) has proposed to reduce its number of trips per day, which would remove a viable means of transportation for many local individuals.
To make this decision, PART examined fuel costs, maintenance expenses and existing financial commitments from counties serviced by the organization’s Express option.
“PART is strengthening its financial base,” said Executive Director Brent McKinney, in a released statement. “We must reduce routes we cannot afford.”
In Surry County, PART aims to reduce its daily bus rides to two morning trips and two evening trips, decreasing from 19 hours to five hours.
Planning Program Manager Mark Kirstner explained the number of hours is being based on the projected revenue from each of the counties. Minus some overhead, the revenue from Surry is $115,850, equal to 3.6 hours of bus transportation. However, Kirstner noted that more hours were needed to accommodate the drives to and from each of the county’s corridors, which is why PART will add an extra 1.4 hours via cost-sharing. Among money reserved for operations, the largest number is from the vehicle rental tax in Forsyth and Guilford counties, with the latter having the most funds due to its Piedmont Triad International Airport and, thus, the most car rentals. PART’s service in those two counties does not use all of the funds it earns. Hence, some of that money is proportioned to other counties, including Surry.
Kirstner was quick to note that the reduced number of bus trips is not meant to save money. “When you use the word ‘saved,’ that implies we’re going to take that money and use it for something else. And that is not the case,” said Kirstner. PART is simply offering the number of trips it can provide based on the funds it receives, he explained.
“If you know the long history, we’ve been projecting this day to come at some point. That day has finally arrived.”
For the fiscal year 2012, PART’s revenue in Surry arrived from vehicle rentals and Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) money from the state. The JARC funds helped low-income individuals have access to employment. However, the state no longer offers JARC funds to PART.
“That’s why it gets very difficult to give a comparison from year to year about what our ‘savings’ might be,” said Kirstner.
He addressed one popular question in response to the proposed reduction: “Why not raise fares again?” When trips were previously reduced, last October, fares increased.
“This whole tenet of public transit is to make something that is available and affordable to everyone,” explained Kirstner. “Folks would be paying maybe more than it would take to actually drive their own car on an individual basis, if they had a car.
“Besides, fares would never pay for the service. If they would, it would be in the private sector.”
On May 9 at 8:30 a.m., the PART Board of Trustees will hold a public hearing at the PART Office, 7800 Airport Center Drive, Greensboro. If the board approves the measure, it will be implemented when the new budget cycle which begins on July 1. The board also will decide which times during the day that PART’s bus transportation will run.
McKinney had only positive words for decreasing PART’s number of daily rounds.
“This is a smart decision,” he said. “If PART Express Services are reduced in some of our rural areas, we do have some alternatives with our van pools.”
PART has about 50 vans operating throughout the region, said Kirstner, who added that carpooling and ride-sharing are other options.
Still, he admitted that county individuals are “concerned” about PART’s proposed changes.
“It’s certainly going to cut down folks’ options as it relates to how they are going to plan their trip,” said Kirstner. “When you limit the number of stops, the number of times we leave Mount Airy, it does strain your schedule some. You may not have the flexibility of, ‘Well, if I miss that bus, I can catch the next one.’”
Reach Josh Armstrong at 719-1921 or firstname.lastname@example.org.