Can we afford to be generous?

Raise your hand if you live in Governors Club and regularly ride the bus. Jim Ward fingered you at last Wednesday’s Town Council meeting during a discussion of whether the town should subsidize Chapel Hill residents who ride TTA commuter buses from the Eubanks Road park-and-ride.

Beginning Aug. 15, the town will charge $2 a day or $250 a year to park in the five public park-and-ride lots that used to be available at no cost. The town felt compelled to impose the fee because UNC will begin charging for its employee park-and-ride lots, which would increase the attractiveness of any free lots and nudge out non-UNC employees.

When park-and-ride fees came up at a previous meeting, council decided to ask TTA to chip in to offset the increased expense for commuters who were doing exactly what we wish more people were doing – using public transportation so fewer cars would clog I-40 and other major transit corridors. Interim transit director Brian Litchfield reported that the TTA “was not interested in paying parking pass fees at this time,” but might be open to paying a user fee for the privilege of picking up paying customers from the Eubanks Road lot. The TTA serves 16 municipalities, said TTA board of trustees member Ed Harrison, and likely does not want to set precedent by agreeing to pay for parking passes.

But until a deal is worked out, Mayor Kleinschmidt wanted to find a way to reward the few dozen Chapel Hill residents who board the TTA bus to Raleigh. Of the 71 TTA riders who board at Eubanks Road, 47 percent have Chapel Hill ZIP codes.

Those ZIP codes include Governors Club, Ward noted archly, and subsidizing parking passes for even 30 residents was a luxury the town couldn’t afford. He suggested TTA riders could avoid the fees by taking Chapel Hill Transit to Eubanks Road. Spoken like a man who has never had to walk to the bus stop, hope the bus is on time, ride to connect with another bus that goes to Eubanks Road, hope that bus is on time and stays on time all the way to its destination to connect with the TTA bus. That could add maybe an hour of commuting time each way.

Litchfield pointed out that some of those commuters receive a GoPass paid for by their employers, so wouldn’t personally feel the pinch of fees.

Matt Czajkowski wanted to know why TTA riders deserved subsidizing any more than Chapel Hill Transit riders. And rewarding people for staying off I-40 during rush hour benefits people beyond Chapel Hill, so why is Chapel Hill taking on sole financial responsibility?

Kleinschmidt objected to the term “subsidized.”

The exchange got heated, though not to the point that anyone pounded the table with a shoe.

In the end, council unanimously approved the new fees, and agreed that talks with TTA would continue at the staff level. For the time being, commuters in Governors Club will have to shell out $250 every year, just like everyone else.
– Nancy Oates

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23 Comments

  1. Bonnie Hauser

     /  April 15, 2013

    Maybe the council should have had this discussion with TTA before they vigorously supported the transit tax. The money could have been directed to shared transit priorities instend of …you know what.

  2. DOM

     /  April 15, 2013

    “Maybe the council should have…”

    Nothing worse than reminding people of what they SHOULD have done about something without providing any possible alternative. It’s hardly productive and sets up an adversarial situation before you even begin the discussion.

  3. Many

     /  April 15, 2013

    Perhaps someone should have pounded their Birkenstock on the table.

    “Interim transit director Brian Litchfield reported that the TTA “was not interested in paying parking pass fees at this time,”……Maybe Mr. Litchfield could get Jerry McGuire to rewrite their mission statement: “The Things We Think and Do Not Say: The Future of Our Business.”

    What is it exactly is the TTA doing with the millions from a half cent sales tax and vehicle registration fee we just gave them again? Oh yea, saving up for a 1.4 Billion dollar “Light Rail” system…….

    I also did not realize Governors Club had its own zip code. Wait a minute….it doesn’t. So there are a whole lot of folks in that 27517 zip code being painted with the “Governors Club” brush. Was there some reason other than smug obfuscation for that comment, Mr. Ward?

    “Kleinschmidt objected to the term “subsidized.”” – what exactly does hizhoner feel is an appropriate term? Perhaps he thinks it should be called a down payment on a membership fee?

  4. Terri Buckner

     /  April 15, 2013

    I don’t understand the point of this article, Nancy. It’s really snarky and doesn’t really make any sense to me. Can you clarify what you were trying to convey?

  5. Mark Marcoplos

     /  April 15, 2013

    Does UNC have any responsibility in this? Surely they knew how the dominoes would fall.

  6. Bonnie Hauser

     /  April 15, 2013

    Many – thanks for clarifying things for DOM.

    don’t worry DOM, we’ll keep working this — our goal is not to rub anyone’s nose in it – just wanted to point out how disingenuous it is to be surprised that TTA wasn’t coming up with money for the park n rides.

    This is what accountability looks like

  7. Name Withheld By Request

     /  April 15, 2013

    “…our goal is not to rub anyone’s nose in it”

    Our?

  8. Many

     /  April 15, 2013

    Mr. Marcoplos,

    Sure they did, but why stop at UNC?

    The state cut the county and UNC’s budget and they are scrambling. The state is scrambling because the economy is bad and the Feds have cut their transportation budget, the Feds are scrambling because we have tolerated and encouraged a lot of living way past our means for more than a decade… Yes, like putting two wars the single largest expansion of government in this countries history and a major social welfare plan on credit, at the same time effectively cutting the minimum monthly payment.

    The reason it’s hard not to be “snarky” about this situation (and the ones soon to come) is that this shortfall was certainly predictable back to 2008. Even if one were not paying attention then, by 2010 one must have had a clue. Yet, the leadership proceeded under the same canards. Making concrete plans for a future that is much less likely to come to pass, sacrificing the immediate need on the alter of a slick political campaign. I know its shocking to the progressives, but it seems both political persuasions are vulnerable to the same big lies.

    I do think we should spend tax monies on transportation infrastructure, but spending should be forward looking, intelligent, accountable and having the major positive effect on those that will actually use it. The TTA plan ain’t that, it is a pipe dream that the elected officials should have seen through and now we collectively pay the piper.

  9. Nancy Oates

     /  April 16, 2013

    Terri — My point was that everyone had a valid point, but they didn’t coalesce. As with most of my blog posts, I aim to get people thinking about what they think about an issue. Sometimes snarkiness is the spoonful of sugar that entices people to read about mundane issues that affect our lifestyle or speak to our values.

  10. Terri Buckner

     /  April 16, 2013

    And sometimes snarkiness obscures the point. Here’s the challenge as I see it (Many described some of it above):

    1. Due to state budget cuts over the past few years, UNC has raised campus parking permit prices as high as they feel they can go. They have to maintain the lots/decks they have built, so they are dependent on selling a certain number of permits. Rather than jeopardize that level of sales/income, they informed staff TWO YEARS ago that they were going to start charging for park and ride permits in 2013.

    2. The town postponed any discussion about the impacts of that decision until the last minute, when they themselves are dealing with serious budget problems.

    3. Now the issue for the town isn’t whether to charge for their lots (that’s a foregone conclusion), but how charging is going to impact their goal of increasing transit ridership. Because they waited so long to deal with the problem, they have no data to work from. Trying to pull TTA in at the last minute to protect some element of that goal is just desperation. The real question IMHO is why staff didn’t raise this issue for council earlier.

    Snarkiness doesn’t help the people who are not aware of the details distinguish between real issues and crusades against TTA. There are some people who post here who would use the current pollen levels as an attack against TTA.

  11. anonymous

     /  April 16, 2013

    Once UNC started charging for parking the Town had no choice but to charge the same rate. So really
    the Town deserves praise for trying to figure out if there is a way to mitigate this. (there may not be!).
    some people just want to blame the town no matter what.

  12. anonymous

     /  April 16, 2013

    and yes if the Town charges TTA, either the commuters employer or TTA can figure out (particularly if ridership drops) if they want to pay in the future.

    I’m sure the Town would be glad to let TTA or employers pay for park n ride slots.

  13. Bonnie Hauser

     /  April 16, 2013

    Hopefully the voters are starting to ask questions – like “didn’t we just approve a transit tax and fee” ? Why do I have to pay for the Park n rides too?

    This is not new. It was just conveniently tucked away to avoid confusing voters with the facts about the transit plan they just approved

  14. Many

     /  April 16, 2013

    Terri,

    Now that you mention it, those buses are covered with pollen aren’t they 🙂

    I acknowledge your criticism, but to be fair most have been consistent and narrow in the criticism of the TTA plan and its propaganda machine. From my perspective, this is indeed a ”crusade” against wasteful spending and has grown to be an exercise in shining daylight on TTA funding, selective information, tactics and stonewalling. I strive to discuss real issues with the TTA plan and the comment serves to illustrate the inconsistencies and hardly rises to the level of an “attack”.

    UNC fees for ParknRide were voted on by the trustees and has been discussed in the media since late 2011, and the TTA plan was signed off on in 2012, so I find it hard to believe this was a suprise to the council or short sightedness by staff. http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2011/10/dps_may_cut_back_on_transit_due_to_limited_transportation_fee
    http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/03/24/1077024/unc-seeking-new-parking-fees.html

    Perhaps that is on reason why Steve Spade decided there were greener pastures elsewhere.

    Reading Nancy’s post, it sounds to me as if the council members were the ones being snarky in reaction an untenable position due to their own making.

    I am glad you too acknowledge that this was predictable and I agree it is sad to watch.

  15. anonymous

     /  April 16, 2013

    Bonnie – if UNC charges 250$ a year for park n ride lots, what do you think would happen to the town lots if free?

    UNC is not a democratic institution with directly elected individuals. Once UNC implemented a fee – against the Town’s wishes – the Town had to raise the fee..
    the taxes we voted on in no way said they would be used to subsidize park n ride users… So you can’t take publicly voted referenda and change the use of the funds after the fact.

  16. Fred Black

     /  April 16, 2013

    Bonnie, are you proposing that OC change what they stated would be done with the additional tax dollars and now allocate money for the Park and Ride expenses?

  17. Terri Buckner

     /  April 16, 2013

    Many,

    I have no objections to anyone being critical of the transit plan. I disagree with many of the objections, but I don’t mind agreeing to disagree. I do, however, object to false linkages between park and ride fees and the TTA plan along with the associated tax. There is no relationship between the two, and using that non-relationship to demonize TTA furthers perpetuates mis-information. Please note, that I don’t believe you have been promoting mis-information.

  18. Mark Marcoplos

     /  April 16, 2013

    Dear Many & Anonymous & all those others whom I have no idea you are:

    I agree with Many. I have frequently pointed out that our collective budgetary priorities (at least as reflected by our elected national reps) have leaned toward pointless wars that feed corporate profits. It’s the backdrop to all of the local municpality’s fiscal struggles. Collectively, we have extraordinary wealth to accomplish everything that would make life comfortable for everyone. However, our system of hyper-capitalism robs from the bottom up to maximize shareholder return. Our municipal governments are like the children of alcoholic parents who enable their alcoholism by not challenging it.

    The rest of the problems, I blame on Bill Strom & Penny Rich.

  19. Many

     /  April 16, 2013

    Terri,

    🙂

    I don’t understand what you don’t understand. How can ParknRide fees and transit taxes be different issues when ParknRide is aimed solely at mass transit and taking cars off the roads and the tax was sold to the voters under the banner of “our transit future”? I think TTA and the politicos are going to have a hard time selling that difference to the voters, but we shall see.

  20. Bonnie Hauser

     /  April 16, 2013

    What Many said.

  21. Terri Buckner

     /  April 16, 2013

    Yeah, the pollen is TTAs fault too. I mean, really, it’s covering the park and ride lots where transit occurs and TTA has transit in their name, so it has to be their fault.

  22. Many

     /  April 17, 2013

    Terri,

    Please explain to Jason that the tax and resulting budget should be for transit and that should include ParknRide. As a taxpayer I am questioning *why* we spend so much on “our transit future” and at the same time lose control over the money to pay for “our transit present”.

    It has been demonstrated that ParknRide was a known issue and someone should have pushed back on the TTA’s gold plated Cadillac in favor of solving issues like this. I believe this ParknRide issue to be just the tip of the looming CHT iceberg.

    TTA didn’t want to discuss the facts of the tax in their rosy propaganda and now rumor has it that NC Leg is preventing them from instituting the vehicle tax, which was supposed to contribute a paltry part of the ongoing maintenance and expansion needs of CHT.

    The whole TTA plan was ill conceived, poorly thought out and now miss-executed, and there is plenty of “fault” to go around.

    If TTA wants to take the blame for the pollen too, that’s on them.

    The truth is the taxpayers have already been more than generous, and the taxpayers generosity is being mismanaged.

  23. Bonnie Hauser

     /  April 18, 2013

    Terri – let’s not forget that the council suggested going to TTA – we’re not blaming TTA – they did their job. We’re blaming our elected officials that allowed TTA to take the money and run -with virtually no contractual protection. It just adds insult to injury for them to ask TTA to help the park n ride fees -after the fact. As though that’s a legitimate request. Weren’t they paying attention?

    Many – thanks for reminding me about the fee problems – I forgot about that secret lobby.

    Why isn’t the media covering any of this?

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