01/28/09 — GATEWAY makes route adjustments on north end

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GATEWAY makes route adjustments on north end

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 28, 2009 1:46 PM

"Thin" ridership on the GATEWAY bus system's northern route has prompted a routing change.

The change, approved by GATEWAY directors Tuesday afternoon, will now send a bus to the new Wal-Mart at Rosewood while continuing to send a bus to Cherry Hospital and O'Berry Center.

In other business, auditors briefed the GATEWAY board of directors on the audit of its 2007-08 budget.

The meeting opened with a brief public hearing on the proposed route change and a ticket incentive program to encourage ridership.

No one from the public spoke at the hearing and the board unanimously approved the changes.

The first bus that runs the northern route will begin its trip at 5:30 a.m. from the GATEWAY depot on Beech Street and take its regular route but instead of stopping at the Little River Shopping Center on U.S. 70 West it will continue past the Trade Mart on U.S. 70 West on its way to a stop at the new Wal-Mart at Rosewood.

The return route will take the bus to the Little River Shopping Center, then down to the Interstate 795 where it will turn right. The route will turn left onto Ash Street down to Carolina Street and then along its normal route.

A second bus will leave at 6:30 a.m. and will follow the same route to a stop at the Little River Shopping Center. It will not go to Wal-Mart, but rather will make stops at Cherry Hospital and O'Berry Center before heading back into town.

Stubbs told board members that the northern route originally had been expected to attract a number of riders who work at Cherry and O'Berry. However, the ridership has been "thin", while he has received a number of requests for the route to be extended to the new Wal-Mart.

Ridership on the route has averaged between a low of 2,227 in November to a high of 3,186 in July. Between July and December there were 15,964 riders compared to 39,941 for the Berkeley route, 37,000 for the Solcumb route and 22,056 for the Wayne route.

As an incentive to ride the bus, directors approved Stubbs' request to allow people to pay $20 and receive 22 tickets. The tickets normally cost $1 each.

The action also allows riders who pay half fare to pay $10 for 22 tickets. To qualify for half-fare prices, riders must be a senior citizen or receive Medicare or Medicaid.

In a final ticket-related issue, directors approved day-long tickets for $2.50 for full fare and $1.25 for half fare.

Those tickets would allow riders to change from bus to bus without first having to go through the system's transfer station on Beech Street.

In a final route matter, Stubbs asked board members to be thinking about a possible change in the stop at Wal-Mart on Spence Avenue.

Currently, buses have to enter the parking lot. Stubbs said he plans to ask the Department of Transportation about the possibility of a stop on Spence Avenue instead of in the parking lot.

The stop would have a cover and bench.

Stubbs noted that he continues to seek sponsorships for the benches that the system is installing at its stops.

The audit provided good news for GATEWAY.

"Basically we came under budget by about $75,000 (in the city match). We can use the money for the (Goldsboro) match for 2008-09," Stubbs said.

The system's 2008-09 budget includes $200,000 in matching funds from the city meaning that the $75,000 can be applied to the amount requested.

"Instead of them giving us money we would use that ($75,000) first," Stubbs said. "But we still have to have a working margin. Just like any corporation if you don't have a working margin and cash in the bank you have to work off cash flow."

The money is in GATEWAY's bank account and will remain there since the N.C. Department of Transportation recommends that the system maintain a working margin of cash equivalent of about $320,000 on the rural side and about $250,000 on the urban side of its operations.

GATEWAY operates buses in both the city and county.

There also is a surplus in county funds to the tune of $112,346.

"We operate on contracts with the county agencies and we charge them so much for transportation," Stubbs said. "Basically what that is showing is that we had an $112,000 profit. We charge them so much to deliver their people and we did it less than what it cost.

"Next year it might cost more. A lot of this depends on what our insurance costs are, what are fuel costs are."

The 2008-09 budget includes $127,202 for gasoline and diesel fuel. Through December the agency has spent $43,053 -- about $20,500 under budget.

Stubbs attributed the stronger bottom line with better management and "a lot of cooperation from my employees watching things and doing things in a more efficient manner trying to cut waste."

One big factor was vehicle maintenance that "was way less" than it has been in the past, he said.

Stubbs attributed that to better preventive maintenance and better supervision to ensure that unneeded maintenance is avoided.

In addition, contributing to the overall savings has been a decline in fuel prices, he said.

Auditor Barbara Everton of Nunn, Brashear & Co., P.A., told board members that the small size of the agency's staff made it impossible to provide the "optimum segregation of duties." The response, she said, is for board members to remain involved in the agency's financial affairs "to provide oversight and independent review functions."

"You all do a good job of that", she said.