01/28/11 — Director: GATEWAY buses running full most of time and at budget

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Director: GATEWAY buses running full most of time and at budget

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 28, 2011 1:46 PM

Those who question why GATEWAY buses continue to operate even when they appear empty are basing those concerns on incomplete information, Goldsboro-Wayne Transportation Authority Director Alan Stubbs said.

"I see it like that (buses nearly empty) at times," Stubbs said. "Other times I see it when it is loaded. Also you have to realize that people sit down in those seats and you are looking over people's heads. There are times when they are not busy, then there are other times when it is standing room only. You can't just look at a certain time and where they are located."

There are routes that are less popular than others, Stubbs added.

"Our north-end route is the smallest route with the least number of riders, but you have to serve the entire city or at least a large portion of it. You also have to realize that a tremendous number of our riders are going to school to get an education so they can become taxpaying citizens and better their lives. They are many people who ride our buses to work that if they didn't have our buses to ride to work, they wouldn't have any way to get to work. It's a service to the community and it also is helping to better other people's lives.

Most ridership is early morning and mid-afternoon, he said. There is still a "good bit of traffic" in the middle of the day, but not as much as those other times, he said.

Fares cover only about 15 percent of the urban buses' operational costs that are "substantially" supplemented by local, state and federal funds, he said.

The bus system is set up to be more of a public service operation than a money-making one, he said.

The city of Goldsboro provides $154,000 for the urban side. The state matches that amount and the Federal Transportation Authority provides about $434,000. In prior years the county has provided about $42,000 for the rural side of the system.

"Really, they (county) can put in the match for the state or we can generate our own match," Stubbs said. "What we have been doing is generating our own match. For the past two years I have not taken any money from the county. This year is not as good, but I think we have enough reserves to take care of it if we need to I think."

The rural side receives $234,000 from the state and none directly from the federal government. Any federal funds pass through the state to GATEWAY, he said.

GATEWAY operates five city routes -- three with the larger buses and two with the smaller ones. Vans operate by appointment only except for one on the Mount Olive and Dudley route. That van makes three trips daily with regular stops.

The van portion of the system "holds its own," but people pay substantially more to ride, he said.

"If you go to Chapel Hill, they don't charge anything," Stubbs said. "But look at some of these college town like Wilmington. The Wilmington bus system handles all of UNC Wilmington's students. Their students, I think, ride free. But I think that the university gives the bus system something like $1.8 million a year for them to do it for them. I think UNC Chapel Hill helps to subsidize the bus system there."

The buses complete their routes once an hour and the cost is $1 each way or $2 for an all-day ticket.

"If you qualify for a reduced-fare card, it is 50 cents each way or $1 for all day," Stubbs said. "The reduced fare is for people 60 years and older, people with a Medicare or Medicaid disability card or students or children.

"If a mother or father rides and they have a kid less than 42 inches tall the kid can ride free. If they have two kids one has to pay the reduced fare, but one can ride free with each paying adult. So if you have two paying adults, a husband and wife, and two small kids, the kids can ride free."

The buses do not stop if no one is getting off or on, Stubbs said.

"One reason we put a large bus on Wayne Memorial (Drive) is that sometimes it has been so busy we have had to send two (smaller) buses over to the school (Wayne Community College)," Stubbs said. "I really need another (large bus) right now.

"I really need two (new large buses), but we don't have to replace them as often. Those buses will probably be here when I am gone. We might have to paint them touched up. But they will last. Plus they have probably been the best advertising thing that I have had. People see those."

Stubbs is hopeful that next year he will be able to order a 30-foot bus instead of one of the larger 35-foot buses now in service.

Two of the system's larger buses were purchased with federal stimulus money. Purchasing another bus would require a $30,000 local match. However, Stubbs said that the urban side of the operation has been coming in under budget with the city.

The larger buses are a way to look ahead to when the new transfer station opens at Union Station as well, Stubbs said.

"Also the larger buses are better built, much better," Stubbs said. "The smaller buses are not built to stand the turns. If you notice, some of the smaller buses are leaning. They are just not heavy enough to handle the type of work they are put through out there. When they turn out of the parking lot over there we have had springs breaking on them, a couple are leaning, they have the old-type wheelchair lifts on them.

"Today most people have motorized wheelchairs. Sometimes with passengers they weigh as much as 600 pounds. Put one of their wheelchair on the lifts out to the side and that bus is leaning like crazy."

The newer buses have ramps that the chairs can roll on, he said. Also, the driver no longer has to get out and manually operate a ramp.

"That saves a lot of time on the ramps. On the old buses that puts us behind," Stubbs said.

The smaller buses are replaceable after 150,000 miles, while the life span of the larger ones are 12 years or 500,000 miles, he said.

"They take the punishment much better than the smaller ones," he said. "Also, thus far, the larger buses are cheaper to maintain. They (small buses) are just not built to last."