There is an old adage that says if it sounds too good to be true, then maybe it is.
That might be the mindset Mount Airy commissioners should take into tonight’s meeting, when the Yadkin Valley Economic Development District Inc., better known locally as YVEDDI, is scheduled to present a transportation service plan to the board.
That proposal, according to preliminary plans, would set up what amounts to a bus or shuttle service in the city, allowing residents to ride to certain high-traffic areas for a dollar. Some of those high traffic areas might include Walmart and the surrounding area, downtown and Northern Hospital of Surry County.
YVEDDI Transportation Director Jeff Cockerham said this week he will not be asking city commissioners for money, instead he will be on hand asking for support in the form of a letter YVEDDI would use in seeking grant money to get the program up and running.
The program sounds wonderful, and certainly fills a need. However, we question what are the long-range operating plans for such a service. The Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation offers rides from different areas of Surry County to Winston-Salem and elsewhere in its service area, and initially started up and operated mostly with federal, state and private grants and never charged enough of its users to become self-sufficient. In recent years as some of that grant money has gone away the organization has asked for more and more financial support from counties it serves, in essence asking non-users to subsidize the riders who utilize the service.
Surry County was one of a number of localities that imposed a surtax on rental car fees with the proceeds going to PART, but the commissioners have, to their credit, resisted additional calls for county money.
We could see this YVEDDI program going the same route, needing no local money in the initial years, but then asking for city funding once up and running.
That is not to say such a move would be wrong. We opposed PART’s continual asking of funding because the folks using that service were primarily people commuting to and from work and using PART to cut down on their personal cost of transportation. Even as PART has raised rates to make its service closer to self-sufficient, those using the shuttle service are still saving quite a bit of money over driving their own vehicles.
YVEDDI is proposing something entirely different that, we suspect, would mostly be used by people who have little or no means of their own transportation to shop, make trips to and from a doctor, and to simply get around town. Ultimately, if YVEDDI’s proposal gets off the ground and is successful, and a few years down the road the organization does come back to the city asking for money, the commissioners might determine the public need being met is worth a public expense. Then again, they might opt against such a request.
At this juncture it’s hard to say which would be the right or wrong course, but what we can say is that the commissioners should view the presentation tonight with the idea that yes, this meets a need, and yes, the organization is asking for no local funds.
And yes, eventually, somewhere down the road that will most likely prove too good to be true and the city might very well be faced with having to partially fund the service to keep it alive.