March 12--EASTERN WAKE COUNTY -- Just as local bus use is hitting record highs, local towns must find a combined $50,000 in order to keep the service running.
Each day, Knightdale/Raleigh Express, known as KRX, and Wendell-Zebulon/Raleigh Express, known as ZWX, make about 40 stops at about 15 different locations in eastern Wake and Raleigh.
In the last four years, each town received grant funding from CAMPO, a local organization, to help pay for the bus services. That grant expires in June, at the end of the fiscal year.
If no new funding sources are established by July, the cost of bus service will double in each town. Knightdale's annual cost will jump to $45,000 from the $21,000 it's paying this year. In both Wendell and Zebulon, the bill will jump to $27,000 from $14,000.
Renewing the service is likely to be a priority for each town because of its popularity. In the last six months, KRX averaged 1,142 riders per month -- a 36 percent increase over the same time period from the year before when KRX averaged 837 riders per month. ZWX ridership increased 13 percent over the same period.
But, for Wendell and Zebulon, doubling their payments would be a tall task since each town faces bleak revenue projections for the coming year. Knightdale is in better financial shape, but Mayor Russell Killen says he wants to avoid using money from the town's general fund to pay for "a recurring expense."
The grant the towns are currently using is not renewable because the eligibility conditions have changed, and eastern Wake towns don't qualify. And the towns cannot add revenue by raising bus ticket prices because the service is provided by Triangle Transit, and the towns have no direct say on bus fares. So town staffs are scrambling to acquire new grants.
"I've talked to (CAMPO) every day for the last four or five days trying to figure this out," Chris Hills, Knightdale's planning director, said last week.
"We're reviewing all options as we continue through the budget process," Teresa Piner, Wendell's town manager, wrote in an email.
Hills, Piner, and Rick Hardin, Zebulon's town manager, declined to say what options their towns might consider to pay for the service. Killen said Knightdale would "absolutely not" consider raising taxes to support the service. Wendell Mayor Tim Hinnant and Zebulon Mayor Bob Matheny did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Come budget time, Knightdale's Town Council and commissioners in Wendell and Zebulon will have the final say in how their respective towns will pay for the service.
Little help, Joe?
Killen pointed out that Wake County Commissioners could help alleviate the region's transportation problems if they would put a transit referendum on the ballot.
"Everyone wants expanded bus service. Everyone. We just gotta get it on the ballot," he said.
Last year, Wake County introduced a draft transit plan that would expand bus service throughout the county and launch commuter trains. Commissioners said it would need to be paid for through a bond referendum, but said the time wasn't right to put such a measure on the ballot.
Commissioners' chairman Joe Bryan, eastern Wake's representative on the board, said last week that transportation issues will again take a back seat to education this year.
"Working toward a bond referendum that would pay for new schools is our number one priority," Bryan said.
"At the appropriate time, we'll have the discussion and we will have a vote," Bryan said. "But it's important for the community to be ready. So, no, there will not be a referendum this fall."
Copyright 2013 - Eastern Wake News (Zebulon, N.C.)