Letter: Transit can’t wait

Graphic by Lori Deaton

The May 28 meeting of Asheville City Council included the only public comment for this year’s fiscal budget. Major themes in the hour and 16 minutes of comment were: requests for $15-an-hour wages for city staff, including comments from firefighters; demand for funding of the Urban Forest Master Plan; and 19 speakers who requested full funding for the Transit Master Plan, with an additional 157 participants offering time, signatures and personal stories via postcards.

Before the hearing, newly appointed City Manager Debra Campbell stated in her manager report, “It would give me no greater pleasure than to be able to fund the first-year implementation from the Transit Master Plan; however, there is a significant issue of the amount of revenue that we have, the additional needs that we have in the community, and then lastly the challenges of implementing for the full year … just having enough buses.”

Transit is more than a pleasure; it is a necessity, and Transit Can’t Wait.

Riders, drivers and allies have advocated for 10 p.m. service for a decade through Just Economics and the 19-Point People’s Agenda for Transportation Reform. Our system is failing riders who rely on it, so we need our local leadership to step in where they previously haven’t. A total of seven buses have been ordered to arrive this year, addressing capacity, so operational funds are the last remaining barrier.

Transit is a central part of meeting our 100% renewable energy goals and carbon neutrality by 2030, while providing equitable access and economic mobility. How our Council and Board of Commissioners vote in this cycle must signal massive shifts in priorities because our budgets fund policies reflective of our community values and stated goals.

Because you care about these matters, Better Buses Together and allies invite you to participate in action:

• Contact the Buncombe County commissioners and ask them to collaborate on paratransit, which accounts for half of evening service hour funding. A strong core service in the center city this year is how we urgently expand to regional transportation effectively.

• Contact our City Council to fully fund their own priorities in an effort to enable our new city manager and transit staff to start negotiations. Council cannot claim to be transit advocates while leaving evening service behind. We must include all routes to 10 p.m. and Sunday and holiday service to 8 p.m.

The time is now for collaborative prioritization. Transit Can’t Wait.

— Vicki Meath, Julia McDowell, Amy Cantrell, Diane Allen, Kim Roney, Sabrina Rembert, Matilda Bliss, Amber LaShae Banks and Carmen Ybarra
All of Better Buses Together

Asheville and Buncombe County

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14 thoughts on “Letter: Transit can’t wait

  1. Mike R.

    Asheville is not overly suitable for an extensive transit system. It will not be cost effective by any stretch. Using big and expensive buses that run with a few riders makes no sense. A more economical and practical system needs to be promoted; not this pie in the sky system.

    • luther blissett

      “Asheville is not overly suitable for an extensive transit system.”

      The city and county already has an extensive transit system. You may have noticed it. The buses are yellow.

      “It will not be cost effective by any stretch.”

      Define “cost effective.”

      • Mike R.

        The transit budget for next year is over $10M. Only $700K will come from fares; the rest is subsidized, including big chunks from the State and Fed. Ridership is about 1.4M unlinked trips per year. That equates to $7/trip of which the rider pays $0.50? Seems like a pretty hefty subsidy to me.

        • luther blissett

          “Only $700K will come from fares; the rest is subsidized”

          So, it’s like almost all transit systems? (Look up “farebox recovery ratio.”) And if your “more economical and practical system” includes ride-sharing, it’s worth remembering that Uber users pay only 41% of the true cost of the fare while investors cover 59%, and eventually those investors will want to stop burning cash.

          The cost-effectiveness of transit is measured by its positive externalities, which includes the economic activity made possible by transit access, taking cars off the roads, and the public service benefit for those who need it.

          • Mike R.

            So how do YOU measure it? Is any cost acceptable? Where would you draw the line based on other critical needs in the city?

          • luther blissett

            You measure, you model, and you test. There’s plenty of research on “how much subsidy is too much subsidy?” for you to get up to speed. I’d suggest that in a city with a low-wage service economy, where shifts end late, having buses run till 10pm is a pretty critical need unless you think it’s fair for the ride home to cost an hour’s worth of work. (Those are also the hours when surge pricing is often in effect because that’s when the tourists want rides.)

            I am a lot more comfortable with subsidizing a system that provides some degree of equity than spewing out seven figure sums to property developers.

            The county school bus system costs $8.3 million per year, in case you were wondering. Most of that comes directly from Raleigh. But to get you thinking in terms of externalities, consider how you’d measure the impact of not having school buses. It’s more than just gas money.

          • luther blissett

            It’s worth noting that transit advocates, after an extended consultation, were willing to concede on a key issue — bus frequency — in exchange for a commitment to extended service hours. And now they’re not likely to get that. It’s shoddy.

  2. Bright

    Talk and take…a new credo for Aville city council. The stupid “transit system “ will never work because of the lack of knowledge. The city is severely troubled by peer pressure from other big cities. If you wannabe like the big boys, you have to know how to think. Take your examples from sustainable SUCCESSFUL larger cities…not places that look good, but of course, have the usual ugly underbelly. Stop being so common, Aville.

    • Enlightened Enigma

      Bright you are more than correct! I asked the Mayor and Council yesterday: WHY do we think that almost every democrackkk led and controlled city in America is on the skids?

      I wish everyone reading this would ask them to explain their thoughts on this…. ashevillenccouncil@ashevillenc.gov WHY is that???? didja evah wonda?

      • luther blissett

        I wish that the peanut gallery ran for election and put their (repetitive) ideas to the test. Weird how they don’t.

        • Jay m reese

          I’m beginning to think maybe Luther and the enigma are the same person.

          From Bologna the multiple-use name spread to other European cities, such as Rome and London, as well as countries such as Germany, Spain, and Slovenia. Sporadic appearances of Luther Blissett have been also noted in Canada, the United States, Finland, Brazil and now Asheville?

          Luther Blissett became a positive mythic figure that was supposed to embody the very process of community and cross-media storytelling.

          • Phillip C Williams

            Oh yes, Luther has a made-up handle no doubt. At least that is one thing I admire about Mr. Peter Robbins as much as I disagree with him on certain things – he at least uses his real name.

            My home is in Arden, and I personally would very much rather ride a reliable bus into town and back if one ran closer to my neighborhood – there is too much traffic all around Asheville, the roads are crappy and congested, and parking is usually a pain.

    • Jay m reese

      Which Cities should they replicate? The City Council has been advised by professional City Planners who have worked in these other cities you chide. Their company names can be found on the cities website. The City Council and staff know what needs done but simply lack the funding. Sadly a disproportionate amount of the transportation funding goes to creating unsustainable automobile infrastructure and our politicians lack the courage to raise fees on drivers

  3. Jay Reese

    Surveys show that many people would be willing to park their car more often and use active transit if the system is reliable and convenient. This has led to the transit advocates mantra of “Build it and they will come”. While the data does show this to be true many Legislators still refuse to fund the projects opting instead for more automobile infrastructure. It seems to me they rely on their “windshield perspective” more than hard data. Knowing this it would seem prudent to change their view (and the view of many of the automobile drivers)by clogging the bus stops and bike lanes with people to show there is truly a demand. This could be accomplished if those who are able to, would leave their cars parked more often and chose active transportation instead. The increased demand would put pressure on the government to fund these much needed changes. It would give them political cover to implement congestion pricing and toll roads coming into the City which could be used to fund the development of more active transportation

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