Council pumps the brakes on transit discussion

ON BOARD: Mayor Esther Manheimer made the decision to formally include the issue of extending bus service hours on the next Asheville City Council agenda. Photo by Daniel Walton

Buses were on the minds of at least some Asheville City Council members during their Jan. 28 meeting when Mayor Esther Manheimer, along with Council members Brian Haynes and Julie Mayfield, prepared to ask City Manager Debra Campbell to look into funding sources for increased bus service hours.

But like a broken-down bus, the talks stalled before any progress was made. Council member Vijay Kapoor called the move “totally blindsiding” because the topic was raised during informal discussion and did not appear on the agenda. 

“Clearly, you all have — someone’s been having conversations about doing this tonight. Not all members of Council were informed on this,” Kapoor said. “I don’t have an issue with us looking at things, but I don’t even know the content of what we’re talking about.”

Manhiemer explained that the action would only have directed Campbell to inform Council members of their options to finish funding phase one of the Transit Master Plan and would not actually amend the city’s budget. Nevertheless, she agreed to table the discussion and formally include the issue on the next Council agenda. 

The city has seen bus improvements this year through the partial implementation of phase one of the 2018 plan, including new routes and more frequent service. But Council hasn’t yet fully funded the plan, which would extend the hours of all bus routes until 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 8 p.m. on Sunday. 

At their Jan. 14 meeting, Council members learned that transit funding for the 2019-20 fiscal year is projected to fall $500,000 short even without implementing the extended hours. Jessica Morriss, Asheville’s assistant director of transportation, explained that the deficit was primarily driven by increases in federally mandated door-to-door paratransit service for residents with disabilities and higher-than-expected prices for fuel and electricity.

Roughly 10 people spoke during public comment in favor of longer hours, including several members of the Sunrise Movement, who were simultaneously celebrating the passage of a climate emergency resolution just moments before.

“We’re standing here today in solidarity with Just Economics and to support the extension of bus hours for those citizens who do not have access to cars and must walk home every day in the dark,” said activist Sally Thames.

Vicki Meath, director of Just Economics and the Better Buses Together campaign, told Council members that she and other commenters planned to walk a South French Broad resident home after the meeting — a gesture emphasizing that community members who rely on buses for transportation often are left without a ride after attending City Council meetings.

“Last year in 2019, 40% of Council meetings ended after the last bus left for [the South French Broad] neighborhood. Sixty-five percent of the meetings in 2019 ended after the last bus left for the Klondike neighborhood up in north Asheville,” she said. “Again, we’re asking for a budget amendment for evening service hours.”


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

8 thoughts on “Council pumps the brakes on transit discussion

  1. Richard B.

    Is my eyesight failing, or what? Whenever I observe an ART bus going by, I can’t see all the passengers that must be on that vehicle to make this
    a valid discussion, that is, to increase funding. In fact, if I note one or two, that’s about all I can see.
    Apparently no one else, like the City Council members, the BC Commissioners, and the Transit folks, have my vision issues.
    On the other hand, if nothing is wrong with my eyes, then the cost per passenger mile must be horrendous.
    Maybe just issue taxi vouchers? Might cost the taxpayers less.

  2. henry

    A report of daily ridership would be the way to start this discussion, as well as a survey of numbers by route that need the extended hours. Why does the city use such large capacity buses, which are much more expensive to operate? Does ridership indicate a need for large capacity buses? It would also be helpful to develop in downtown routes that involve tourists, which would increase ridership and perhaps bring in TDA funding. City Council needs to release more data and a more structured plan

    • Richard B.

      All good ideas. My observation is that the problem is a shortage of people who don’t know how to plan, strategize, assess, etc.
      Need input from people who have had experience doing that in the business world. Where are they?
      Your suggestions are not brain surgery. Just basics to how every effective business plan is constructed.
      Need some hard core capitalists in that group, which would of course benefit everybody, especially the poor folks who need the transportation.

      • dyfed

        Ridership maps (although informationally inconvenient to the task at hand) seem to indicate that outside downtown, the median number of riders per stop per day is 1-2. Indeed, the fare free zone, and not all of it, seems to account for the vast majority of riders.

        Has anyone really crunched the numbers on pickups and drop offs by day, time, and region? To my eye it looks like without a massive increase in ridership coming from outlying areas, extended service hours would at little to no ridership at a presumably terrific cost.

    • Jay

      The one reason Transit Companies don’t run small busses is because most of the expense is in labor and so it doesn’t really save that much money. Eventually these busses will fill to capacity as congestion worsens and the city restricts automobile access.

      The City Council and all the others working in this issue have been in consultation with experts in urban planning and transportation. The changes we are experiencing have taken place in many other cities. The era of the automobile is waning and will have to share the road road and funding with other modes of transportation

      Keep in mind that driving an automobile cost our society money that is not covered by driver user fees. Environmental degradation, poor health outcomes, and a host of other negative consequences of a car centric transportation system. Given a level playing field with the automobile, active transit is a much better bargain.

Leave a Reply to Lulz ×

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.