Chapel Hill Transit Needs $80M to Hire Staff, Replace Old Buses

“At this moment, (Chapel Hill Transit) operations are not financially sustainable in the long term so we’ve got to do something,” said Bethany Whitaker, principal at the transportation firm Nelson\Nygaard.

The town hired the firm to study the state’s second largest transit system and to help make a financial plan for the system’s future.

Chapel Hill Transit has about a hundred fixed-route vehicles. The system should replace 40 percent of its buses and hire more drivers and mechanics, Whitaker said in her presentation to the Chapel Hill Town Council on Monday. This takes money.

“About $80 million over the next ten years needs to be invested in the system both for replacing vehicles, (and) also bringing staff and operations up to speed,” said Whitaker. “But this does not account for any growth in the system.”

Funding for the transit system comes from UNC and the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Chapel Hill Transit also gets federal funds – which have remained steady over the last ten years, but inflation makes the 2015 dollars worth less –  and state funds, which have decreased during this period.

Whitaker listed five strategies to make the bus system financially sustainable.

1)    Pass a tax to raise more money for area transit
2)    Reduce service
3)    Charge bus fares
4)    Leasing, debt financing to purchase vehicles
5)    Require partners (Chapel Hill, Carrboro and UNC) to increase transit funding

Council members offered differing viewpoints on whether busing is too heavily oriented toward the UNC campus and whether the fare-free system should be re-evaluated. Members asked Nelson\Nygaard to analyze each option in greater detail to help the council make a financial plan for the transit system. You can read the firm’s full report here.

Orange County to Increase Bus Services

On Tuesday night in Chapel Hill the Orange County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to expand bus services in Orange County over the next five years.

Orange County Planning Director Craig Benedict presented details of the five year expansion to the board.

“We will be talking about, roughly, seven routes that we’ll be able to put into operation in the spring of next year after we receive some buses,” said Benedict.

Orange Public Transportation, which serves rural areas of the county, will coordinate with Triangle Transit Authority and Chapel Hill Transit.

The county plans to add bus service from Cedar Grove to Chapel Hill and Hillsborough. Efland will also be connected to Hillsborough.

Full sized Buses cost about $450,000 each. Benedict said the county will buy small, 20-passenger buses for the expanded service. “Our buses are really only about $75,000 total a piece,” said Benedict.

The bulk of the money will come from the one-half cent sales tax increase and vehicle registration fee that voters approved in 2012. The county started collecting this money in April 2013. The county estimates the expansion will cost between $100,000 and $500,000 each year for the next five years.

Benedict said the county will gather data on how many people are using the buses. He said routes and schedules will be adjusted to ensure efficient use of the buses.

CHCCS Students OK After Orange County Bus Crash

A Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools bus collided with a car Tuesday afternoon at the intersection of Bethel Hickory Grove Church and Jo Mac roads in Orange County.

No injuries were reported, but the back of the sedan was crushed. The driver reportedly reversed after missing the turn onto Jo Mac, causing the bus to rear-end the car.

The 37 students from McDougle Elementary were transferred to another bus then taken back to the school to wait for their parents.

Brian Litchfield Announced As CHT Director

Photo courtesy of Litchfield’s alma mater, Wayne State College in Wayne, NE

CHAPEL HILL – Your local transit authority has been led by an interim director for the past ten months, and now, Brian Litchfield is taking over as the full-time director.

Town Manager Roger Stancil announced Friday that he has appointed Litchfield as Chapel Hill Transit’s director.

Litchfield served as the assistant director of the second largest transit system in North Carolina since 2008. With a 125-bus fixed route and para-transit system and an average weekday ridership of 35,000 people, CHT is second only to the Charlotte Area Transit System.

Before Chapel Hill, Litchfield was the chief development officer for the Des Moines Regional Transit Authority in Des Moines, Iowa.

Chapel Hill Transit has 235 employees and an operating budget of $19.7 million.

Minimum Fines For Passing School Buses In NC Bill

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – North Carolina motorists convicted of passing a stopped school bus picking up or dropping off students would face a $500 minimum fine in addition to other punishments in legislation going to Governor Pat McCrory’s desk.

The House agreed Tuesday to Senate changes to the bill, named for an 11-year-old boy killed last December when police say a car struck him at a Forsyth County bus stop.

In the “Hasani N. Wesley Students’ School Bus Safety Act,” a driver who hits a child and faces a felony would receive a minimum $1,250 fine. A conviction resulting in death would mean at least $2,500.

The measure requires drivers convicted of repeat violations to have their licenses revoked for at least one year and possibly permanently. The motorist could get limited driving privileges.