Asheville transit needs run $500K over budget

Asheville Rides Transit bus
DRIVING DOLLARS: Asheville Director of Finance Tony McDowell warned that bus driver shortages will likely delay the implementation of evening hours and other increases in service outlined in the Transit Master Plan in spite of $1.1 million being allocated to Asheville’s Transit Fund in the fiscal year 2022-23 budget. Photo courtesy of the city of Asheville

The fare for a rider on Asheville’s bus system is $1, but running those buses costs considerably more. And at its Jan. 14 meeting, Asheville City Council heard that the projected need for transit funding was $500,000 more than budgeted at the July 1, 2019, start of the fiscal year.

Jessica Morriss, Asheville’s assistant director of transportation, explained that the higher costs were primarily driven by federally mandated door-to-door paratransit service for residents with disabilities. Not only are more riders taking advantage of the service, she said, but the average trip distance has also increased.

The remaining transit budget gap, Morriss said, was due to higher-than-expected prices for fuel and electricity to power Asheville’s buses. In total, the expected $500,000 gap represents a 4.9% increase over the $10.16 million transit services fund for fiscal year 2019-20.

Morriss added that due to this fiscal reality, the city would likely not be able to lengthen the hours of bus operation for the rest of the year, an expansion called for by the 2018 Transit Master Plan. City planners estimated the cost of that extension at $250,000 to $300,000. “It would be challenging, to say the least, primarily because we’re in a $500,000 shortfall,” she said.

Looking ahead to fiscal year 2020-21, Morriss said her department would request an additional $2.5 million to cover the extra paratransit and fuel costs, as well as pay for a full year of the Transit Master Plan changes that began on Jan. 5. Roughly $400,000 of that increase, she added, would cover a portion of paratransit services currently subsidized by Buncombe County government, which has told the city it intends to eliminate that funding in its next budget cycle.

Council member Julie Mayfield, who has long positioned herself as an advocate for transit expansion, said she hoped her Buncombe colleagues would reconsider their decision to end the paratransit subsidy. County government, she pointed out, is responsible for most of the area’s other health and human services expenses, and all city residents are also residents of the county.

“Feel free to take that message back to them,” Mayfield told Morriss.

In other news

After nearly an hour of discussion and signs of opposition from Council member Keith Young, developer Harry Pilos asked Council to delay a decision on his request for a conditional zoning amendment to the RAD Lofts project until Tuesday, Feb. 25. The change would have reduced the project’s percentage of residential units covered by affordability restrictions from 100% to 10%, a move he said was necessary to secure investor funding.

Pilos claimed that none of Asheville’s affordability incentives made economic sense for the project and said he would offer the 10% of affordable units without city support. But Young suggested that the developer’s proposal wouldn’t meet city housing goals. “This sort of development promotes gentrification,” he said.

Council also approved the issuance of $23.2 million in general obligation bonds initially authorized by city residents as part of a 2016 referendum. Instead of directly funding projects, the bond sale will be used to pay back a form of short-term debt called a bond anticipation note; city CFO Barbara Whitehorn noted that Asheville has already spent $15.6 million of that money on affordable housing projects and plans to draw on the remainder over the next month.


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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the former news editor of Mountain Xpress. His work has also appeared in Sierra, The Guardian, and Civil Eats, among other national and regional publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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8 thoughts on “Asheville transit needs run $500K over budget

  1. D Moore

    Whoever does the financial projections for Asheville’s budgets and/or capital spending does a crappy job.

  2. Enlightened Enigma

    why would any city ‘leader’ not want gentrification to improve their city ? only an idiot NON leader would claim that buffoonery.

  3. Chris S

    Its time to cut spending council. You cant even repair our roads and sidewalks . I would say in a timely manner but you don’t do it at all. One suggestion is that the city and county combine the development services departments. City’s is slow and incompetent anyway, and half the time the county needs to do the city inspections for them because they lack skilled staff. Im sure someone with a backbone would be able to fund these special projects and keep taxes the same if you cut spending. And another, the office of equity or whatever they call it does not need a staff of three. If you cant do that job by yourself your not qualified for such job.

    • indy499

      OTOH, the council is world class at issuing meaningless official proclamations.

  4. Bright

    “Door to door paratransit?” Anyone have any idea what this is? At 500k, no one in this place should have to use their own vehicle. Sounds like smoke and mirrors to pocket more dough…sad.

    • Jay Reese

      Mobility is an essential part of life and it’s reasonable that our government would provides efficient and safe transportation for all of its citizens. Sadly a majority of the money goes to providing solo trips in automobile which has proven to be a disaster.

      Department of Transportation (DOT) Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations at 49 C.F.R. Section 37.129(a), complementary paratransit service for ADA paratransit eligible individuals must be “origin-to-destination” service.

      • Bright

        Thanks for the info. I have no faith in the city council…they’ve proven themselves to be shysters. But it’s fun to read the rationals in this paper.

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