The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners is not quite ready to get on the bus to support Asheville’s ambitious new Transit Master Plan. At the board’s Dec. 4 meeting, members expressed concerns over the city’s impending requests for county funds to expand its Asheville Redefines Transit service.
“This is Buncombe County; it’s not the city of Buncombe,” said Commissioner Mike Fryar. “Every time I turn around, the city wants something. This building’s not pink,” he added, referencing City Hall’s distinctive art deco facade.
As explained by county planner Matt Cable, Asheville plans to request $62,657 in the next fiscal year to finance an ART route extending beyond city limits along New Leicester Highway, thereby serving the Erwin school district and an Ingles Market. By fiscal year 2029, the requested allocation could exceed $950,000 once a new route to Weaverville and a flex route serving the Reynolds community are tacked on.
Additionally, noted Cable, the city’s plans could create unknown extra expenses for the county’s Mountain Mobility service as it adjusts to changes in ART routing and scheduling. The county is also Asheville’s provider for paratransit service for people with disabilities, required under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act to operate during the same hours as bus service.
“We could see the contractor that operates the service request a rate increase there because we’re operating extended hours of service in order to meet our contractual obligations with the city,” Cable explained. He also projected a decrease in revenue due to paratransit customers taking advantage of the fare-free weekend trial program included as part of the city’s plan.
Commissioner Al Whitesides said collaboration between the city and county could lead to more efficient transit for the region’s residents but criticized the current iteration of the plan. “I see us putting a lot of money in this over the years, but I don’t see the services getting to the people in the county who really need the services,” he said. “Maybe I’m just a simple-minded country boy, but I’ve always looked at things [as], if I’m going to put out my money, I want to get something out of it.”
Whitesides also noted the county’s limited role in designing the current Transit Master Plan. Although the board contributed $7,600 to the cost of the study, county staff did not participate in developing its work program or selecting the consultants that conducted it. “I can see us doing a plan, but we’ve got to have more input in it and we’ve got to be represented at the table so that we’re getting something out of it.”
Board Chair Brownie Newman took a slightly more conciliatory tone. “I think we need to be open-minded in what meets people’s needs the best,” he said. But Newman also acknowledged the high cost of providing transit and said the county would not yet take any definitive action on supporting the city’s plan.