Ticket to ride less

Riders who board Chapel Hill Transit buses this week and are offered passenger surveys should think long and hard about filling out those forms – they may be a ticket to ride less.

CHT is conducting an on-board passenger survey designed to cover such topics as convenience of routes, service levels and availability of information. The feedback is intended to help the town “improve” bus service.

By “improve” the town means downgrade or eliminate routes that have the least ridership (or least vocal ridership) as a way to help cut costs. So some riders who fill out and turn in the surveys will be casting a vote on whether the very route they enjoyed while filling out the form will continue or, at the least, become less frequent.

The manager’s budget for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, plans to discontinue the Shared Rider/Feeder services, which provide service to areas that do not receive regular evening or Sunday bus service. There’s talk about eliminating the M route, which goes from Carrboro to downtown and out to University Mall and the public library, and adjusting the HS, RU, NS, CCX, NU and F routes.

Cost efficiencies are always welcome, especially in a tight budget year when the town will have to dip into its reserve funds so it can hand out $800 bonuses to town workers while increasing their health care costs. But people who missed the bus or were out of town during the survey may be in for a big surprise the next time they walk over to the nearest bus stop to wait for the express.

Transit costs will siphon more than $17.4 million from the town budget next year. And the manager is looking uneasily at the budgets that will follow this one. Federal assistance is expected to decline by as much as 7 percent next fiscal year, and federal operating grants have been eliminated. While state assistance could increase, I wouldn’t count on it. Looks like it could be a bumpy road for town bus service.

The town characterizes the survey as “an effort to provide better service to its valued customers.” Anybody have any suggestions for how to reduce transit costs or find alternative sources of funding? The town manager and CHT sure could use them.

All this was discussed at two public forums on Monday at the Chapel Hill Bible Church. If you missed them and want to learn more, you can contact CHT at chtransit@townofchapelhill.org or call 919-969-4900.
–Don Evans

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  1. js

     /  May 18, 2010

    for the cost of operating some of the routes that are empty every single time I’ve ridden them, the town could probably keep a car parked at 3 or 4 points around town and run it like a free taxi service when you call them. I don’t think a mass transit route that drives back and forth all day with hardly any riders is any more eco-friendly than just having a subsidized cab take those 12 people where they need to go.

  2. Over 4 municipal election cycles the most common complaint I’ve heard about the system is its hours of operation not syncing with folks work/school/shopping schedule followed closely by its hub and spoke topology (having to roll Downtown from the Mall and then back out to Chapel Hill North, for instance).

    EZ Rider, which is a great service, comes under a cloud for two issues: timeliness (including missed appointments) and occasional claims of a lack of courtesy. I’ve never used the services but know and trust folks that do – including a number of my neighbors. It’s fantastic we can offer this level of mobility but there seems to be some discontent.

    JS, most folks still don’t realize UNC is running ZipCar ( http://www.zipcar.com/unc/ ) services which is kind of similar to what you’re suggesting. More to the point of your request, I do see a lot of Chapel Hill transit service vehicles driving to-and-fro during the day – the drivers and vehicles might not be qualified to perform public transit services but it might be something worth looking into….