07/30/08 — GATEWAY won't up fares for bus riders

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GATEWAY won't up fares for bus riders

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 30, 2008 1:36 PM

A Tuesday afternoon decision not to increase the cost of riding the GATEWAY bus system, at least not for now, drew praise from the handful of people on hand for a public hearing about the fares.

“Thank you for not changing the rates. Some of us work from paycheck to paycheck,” audience member Vivian Locklear said.

Fares will remain at $1 per person. Riders ages 60 and older or who are on Medicare or Medicaid may qualify for a 50-percent discount. Children ride for half price and a child less than 42 inches tall may ride for free with a paying adult.

And this Friday and Saturday in observance of the state’s tax-free weekend, ridership will be free. Ridership doubled last year when GATEWAY waived fares on the Saturday of the tax-free weekend.

Along with its decision not to increase fares, Goldsboro-Wayne Transportation Authority board members approved some changes in all four routes that will add about five miles to the system. Also increased were the number of stops, from 114 to 131.

Copies of the routes are available at the GATEWAY office at the corner of Beech Street and Madison Avenue.

Finally, the board agreed to purchase a $312,000 bus and up to $5,000 worth of new benches to be placed at bus stops.

The six people attending the hearing all said they use and depend on the buses.

“I use them all. I love them all,” Ms. Locklear said.

Renita McLamb elicited a laugh from board members when, after arriving a few minutes late, said “I’m late. I caught the bus.”

She said as a single mother and Wayne Community College student, she depends on the GATEWAY system.

Several in the audience questioned board members about expanding the routes or hours of operation.

“Right now the system lacks enough drivers to do so,” said Alan Stubbs, authority director.

Stubbs said several factors had contributed to being able to hold the line on fares.

“In preparing the new budget, we discovered we had more money left over than what we thought we did,” Stubbs said.

Also, a decision by the Federal Transportation Authority (FTA) to allow GATEWAY to capitalize American Disabilities Act monies is expected to save Goldsboro about $30,0000, Stubbs said. Capitalizing, he said, means treating operating expenses as a capital line item.

In the past, the city had to pay 50 percent of the fares of those riders who were unable to pay.

By capitalizing the monies, the city will qualify for an 80-percent match that will save the city about $30,000, he said.

FTA is also allowing the same capitalization for preventive maintenance costs.

“We can put the money in capital and all preventive maintenance is considered all maintenance except for gasoline,” Stubbs said. “Tires, batteries, transmission — we can put all of that in capital. It is treated like operating expense, but we can get an 80-percent match. We can be able to save, between the two of those, $43,000 so that eliminates having to go up on rates for right now. It could change, but right now we don’t have to increase them. Hopefully gasoline and diesel prices will stabilize.”

As for the new bus, Stubbs said it will take about a year for it to be built and delivered.

The 35-foot bus will have a seating capacity of 32, including a minimum of two handicapped spots.

Over the next 12 months the authority will commission a study on every aspect of the GATEWAY operation, Stubbs said. The addition of a fifth route will be considered where the new bus could be used.

“(The study) will include a restored Union Station and how GATEWAY will fit into that and how it will used in other transportation areas.”

Other possible changes in store include a route toward Wal-Mart at Rosewood and Mount Olive.

The six-foot benches approv-ed by the board are similar to ones being used in Wilmington, Stubbs said. To help offset the cost, Stubbs said he plans to ask for companies to buy sponsorships — similar to some of the advertising now on some GATEWAY vehicles.

GATEWAY enjoyed a 3.3-percent increase in bus ridership and about an 11-percent increase in van ridership over the past year, he said. Stubbs said he is unsure how much of a role skyrocketing gas prices played in the increase.

“I think it is just availability and people finding out what we are and what we do,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize that we are serving the public and that anybody can ride them.”