GATEWAY views differ
By Matt Caulder
Published in News on May 5, 2014 1:46 PM
A GATEWAY bus travels down Berkeley Boulevard. Ridership on the city's urban bus system has seen a dramatic decrease, and at least one member of the City Council says spending $3.8 million on a new bus transfer station is a waste.
Goldsboro City Councilman Gene Aycock is not convinced.
He is not convinced that Goldsboro needs a new $3.8 million transfer station for its urban bus system.
He is not convinced that if his fellow council members determine that one is necessary, it should be located downtown.
"Do we need a $3.8 million bus station?" Aycock said. "My personal thought is no -- especially not where they're building it. It is not a central location in the city. There are better places if they're going to build one. Do they need a $3.8 million building? Well no, but we don't need a $6 million W.A. Foster either."
Aycock agrees that GATEWAY needs a different transfer station -- one that is more suited to the needs of those who utilize the services the organization provides; a facility that includes air conditioning and adequate heat.
But the current plan, he said, is not the right one.
Work is set to begin this year on the city's new transfer station, a nearly $4 million facility that will be located on Carolina Street next to Union Station.
The cost of construction will come out of a $13.35 million Department of Transportation grant -- the city is responsible for $3.35 million of that sum, the match required to secure the remaining $10 million from the federal government.
The city plans to take out a $4 million loan to cover that match.
Aycock is not the only member of the council concerned about the plans to construct a transfer station downtown.
Councilman William Goodman said "a more centrally located location would be a lot better."
"There might be a good probability that it would be better off in a different location," he said.
Goodman expressed those concerns in October when the grant was officially awarded to the city -- stating that he was worried about the security of keeping the city's buses along the 100 block of Carolina Street.
Last week, he said those concerns have not been abated.
"I think we're gonna have to look at it very carefully to figure out what to do," Goodman said. "But I guess now we are kinda tied into it. Something we're really going to have to look at is a way to secure those vehicles."
Others, though, are committed to the proposed location.
Councilman Chuck Allen said that he would not put the station anywhere besides the location adjacent to the train station for a number of reasons -- among them, because it gives the city the multi-modal transportation capability he said is important.
"It has everything to do with transportation and trying to be multi-modal with buses and taxis and trains if (they) come back," Allen said. "It's especially important when getting federal dollars to do these things."
Also important to Allen is to have a good center for riders to transfer buses in the city.
"In my opinion it's the right thing to do," he said. "There is no doubt in my mind GATEWAY needs a new facility. I'm perfectly comfortable with what we did and where we put it."
Councilman Bill Broadaway also supports the plan to build the transfer station next to Union Station because, he says, in the long run, it will prove to be the best thing for the city.
"I don't have a problem with what Gene needs to do," he said. "You make a plan and you stick with it. You don't turn down a grant. It's the kiss of death."
Broadaway said that if the city were to turn down the TIGER grant now, it would hurt Goldsboro's chances for future grants.
"I don't feel strongly enough either way to argue with Gene on that," Broadaway said. "A bigger issue is quality of life and we need that transportation system to keep that up."
Broadaway added that when it comes to the area of town the station is going, he looks at the long term.
"You can't ever write an area off and say, 'That won't ever change,' because you don't know," he said. "You can say Day Circle will never improve, but those people deserve a good quality of life, too."
Councilman the Rev. Charles William Sr. believes the best place to build the station is where it is planned to go, because it will serve the senior citizens living in and around downtown.
"It's a lot of the seniors that use it," he said. "A lot of them don't have automobiles and to not have that would be a tremendous loss to us. I think that they do need that down there. It needs to go somewhere. Downtown is supposed to be the central district where everything happens. It's the county seat. The courthouse is there."
Williams said if the city is going to attract people it needs to have a strong downtown.
The TIGER grant is not the only potential revenue source for GATEWAY projects.
The organization has also applied for a grant, backed by a nearly 100,000 city match, that would allow for the purchase of two new buses.
The 25- and 30-foot buses would replace two Ford buses currently out of service.
The Goldsboro City Council allowed GATEWAY Executive Director Lynn Lamberth to apply for the grant in March, which leaves taxpayers responsible for the 20-percent match it would require.
Aycock is not against this move.
"Is it time to buy new buses?" he said. "As long as we have GATEWAY we will need new vehicles. And we need GATEWAY."
Ridership on the city's urban bus routes has been in steady decline for the past two years.
In fact, GATEWAY has seen a 25-percent decline in its ridership just in the first quarter of this year.
The number fell from an average of 22,765 riders in the first quarter of 2012 to 17,007 riders between January and March of 2014.
Aycock, who serves on the GATEWAY board, said that certain factors added to the drop in ridership, including fare changes.
"When the fares went up that reduced it," he said. "The biggest thing was you used to be able to buy a ticket and ride all day on that ticket. People would take that all-day pass and give or sell it to someone else. We were carrying a lot of people, but not getting paid for them."