NC: Triangle Transit Raises Fares, Adds Sunday Bus Service Next Week

Aug. 15--RALEIGH -- Most Triangle Transit bus patrons will start paying more for their rides when the regional agency increases its fares next week, for the first time in 10 years.

And Triangle Transit will inaugurate Sunday service on a handful of routes, stepping up to a seven-day schedule for the first time in its 21-year history.

Raleigh's Capital Area Transit is preparing to follow suit with a cash fare hike from $1 to $1.25 starting Oct. 1. The city's Transit Authority set that date during its meeting Thursday, although a fare increase for Accessible Raleigh Transit -- the service for people with disabilities -- will be delayed until January.

For riders on Triangle Transit buses, the base cash fare will increase Monday from $2 to $2.25. Most other rates also will rise. But some commuters will find value in new 7-day passes, cheaper than Triangle Transit's old 5-day passes: $16.50 for regular routes, $22 for express buses.

Also Monday, the three-county agency will launch a new weekday, rush-hour Orange-Durham Express (ODX) bus for Durham workers who live in northern Orange and Alamance counties. The ODX bus will run to Duke Medical Center and downtown Durham from a Hillsborough park-and-ride lot at North Churton Street and U.S. 70. Next year the ODX route will be extended westward to pick up commuters in Efland and Mebane.

Triangle Transit will start Sunday operations Aug. 24 on four routes, which also will see its Saturday evening hours extended to 11 p.m.

The service expansions are being funded mostly with a half-cent sales tax dedicated to transit improvements, approved by county commissioners and voters in Orange and Durham counties. The two counties have collected the transit tax since April 2013 to pay for new bus service and design work for a planned light-rail line between UNC-Chapel Hill and downtown Durham.

Wake commissioners have delayed action on a possible transit tax. A new state law signed by the governor last week will prevent Wake voters from considering a half cent transit sales tax before 2016.

The Triangle Transit improvements are limited to Orange and Durham counties except for one: Route 100 from Raleigh to Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Along with Triangle Transit's 400, 700 and 800 buses, the Raleigh-RDU 100 bus will start running Saturday evenings and Sundays between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Requests for Sunday bus service

The bus goes from Raleigh's Moore Square Transit Center to RDU, with stops along the way including N.C. State University. It also stops at the Regional Transit Center in Research Triangle Park to pick up airport patrons from Orange and Durham counties.

"Sunday service is a popular request we've gotten over the years," said John Tallmadge, Triangle Transit's commuter resources director. "We expect we'll pick up more people who are able to use the airport bus service for leisure travel, because now they have an option to return on Sunday."

The Saturday night and Sunday buses also will benefit Orange and Durham county residents who commute to restaurant and retail jobs, Tallmadge said.

"Some of the feedback we've gotten is: This is great, now I can work Sunday and get more hours in my job," he said. "Some people have had to take taxicabs to get to their jobs on Sundays."

Triangle Transit trustees considered low-income riders when they approved new rates for fares and bus passes, Tallmadge said. The discount rates offered to disabled riders will not increase, and these discounts will be extended to riders aged 13 to 18.

But free rides are ending for seniors aged 65 and over, and children aged 6 to 12. These riders now will pay the same discounted prices offered to disabled riders.

In Durham, the city council balked last year at raising fares for Durham Area Transit Authority riders, citing concern for low-income residents who depend on public transportation. The city is dipping into property tax revenue to cover increased transit operation costs.

Raleigh's CAT is gearing up for its first rate increase since 2007, to take effect Oct. 1. In addition to the quarter cash fare hike, a 31-day pass will go from $36 to $45.

Transit costs rising

Southeast Raleigh community leaders have opposed the CAT fare increases, raising equity issues around the fare-free R-Line circulator bus that CAT operates for downtown shoppers and workers, tourists, and late-night bar-hoppers. State Transportation Secretary Tony Tata had invited city officials and community representatives to discuss the R-Line at a meeting next week, but a CAT official said Thursday that the meeting has been cancelled.

Both CAT and Triangle Transit have seen their costs rise in recent years, and the share of operating expenses covered by farebox collections has fallen. Triangle Transit calculates that riders will be paying about 20 percent of the service cost -- up from the current 15 to 16 percent -- when the new rates take effect.

CAT's fare increase will generate $347,593 this fiscal year and $576,534 next year. The Raleigh Transit Authority voted Thursday to spend the money on service improvements, adding more frequent midday trips along Falls of Neuse Road and running buses on holidays.

CAT and Triangle Transit also have announced plans to raise their rates again in 2016. They're expecting to spend a lot more money in coming years whenever it comes time to replace old buses with new ones.

In the past, the local share of bus replacement costs was usually only 10 percent. But both the state and federal governments have cut spending and changed their formulas for providing help with new bus purchases.

"We're expecting to have to pick up about 75 percent of the cost of vehicle replacement," Tallmadge said. "That's our rationale for raising fares at this point -- so as not to have to raise them even higher down the road, to catch up with this new expense."

Staff writer Colin Campbell contributed to this report.

Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or newsobserver.com/roadworrierblog Twitter: @Road_Worrier

Copyright 2014 - The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

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