While we at Think Transit are excited that the UNC community is addressing transit problems and searching for long-term solutions, we feel that the answer to our current and foreseeable transit problems is not fare-free busing. Instead, Think Transit, a student-run organization that promotes the use of mass transportation in the local community, encourages the campus to lobby for increased services from Chapel Hill Transit including greater frequency of buses, expanded routes and extended hours.
Fare-free busing will prevent Chapel Hill Transit from improving service in any of these areas. Let's look at the economics.
According to the proposed referendum, the $8.49 per semester student fee increase raises $500,000 of the $1 million total that the University will contribute toward the total cost of fare-free busing. Chapel Hill Transit Authority has agreed to pay the remaining 60 percent of the cost for fare-free service. This agreement initially seems like a deal. But as Rachel Willis, UNC adjunct associate professor economics and Triangle Transit Authority trustee, notes, "the 75 cents (fare) isn't stopping anyone. It is not the price but really the frequency of service and how late service is provided."
As Willis explains, fare-free busing would eliminate a revenue source, thus leading to budget cuts that would result in less service. Instead, the University should encourage ridership by directing this money to expanding and improving service and to providing subsidized bus passes to current riders. Not only would more ridership help create a more convenient bus system for everyone, but it would attract greater federal support. Federal money is distributed based on efficiency; transportation systems with the greatest number of riders will benefit the most. When greater frequency, longer hours and weekend service are the factors that would increase ridership, fare-free busing is a move in the wrong direction.
Does the 75 cents fare discourage your ridership on the bus? Or is it the inconvenience of a bus system that does not suit your schedule?
Think Transit feels that the true problem facing the UNC community is scheduling that does not meet student needs.
Rachel Green, a senior from Greensboro, explained, "As a student who takes the bus daily, I would rather have buses that come more often and later in the day than ones that were free and didn't come as often or as late in the day."
Others like her complain about the inconvenience of the bus. For example, many lament that the N-bus that serves the Bolinwood apartment complex runs at 45-minute intervals between 7:15 a.m. and 6:55 p.m. What do other students want? No one really knows, because there has not been a comprehensive poll.
Research seems to be lacking for this proposal. There has yet to be a study completed on fare-free busing for the University done by the UNC administration, student government or an outside source. Think Transit believes before spending $1 million, we should have analyzed the effects of possible solutions before choosing one.
Moreover, University committees that address transit issues (the Transportation and Parking Advisory Committee and the Board of Trustees) have yet to endorse fare-free transit.
Finally, a last question: Why should students support this proposal to the tune of $500,000 a year? Good question. Fare-free busing does not have the support of University transportation committees, sufficient research has not been completed, and the plan does not best meet the current transit needs of our community.
Tomorrow, we strongly urge you to vote "no" on the referendum for fare-free busing. But we remind you this vote is not a no for mass transit. Instead, it can be a sign of support for increased frequency of buses, more routes and longer hours as long as we voice this preference.
Brad Rathgeber is a senior from Kensignton, Conn., and president of Think Transit. Amanda Boenish is a junior from Jacksonville, Fla., and
treasurer of Think Transit. Comments are welcome at email@example.com.
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