On Feb. 13, students overwhelmingly supported a referendum 3,882 to 1,576 that would make all Chapel Hill Transit Authority buses fare-free. The system would most likely become effective in fall 2002 and would provide all potential bus patrons, not just UNC students, with alternatives to the overcrowding and parking problems that affect Chapel Hill and the University.
Chapel Hill and Carrboro town officials said they must closely review budget plans and proposals from the University, the transit authority and Carrboro. The three partners must then figure out how much each is willing to pay. While the University is willing to pay a larger percentage of the cost than it has in the past, some feel that the cost might still be too great.
Carrboro Board of Alderman member Joal Broun said she realizes the potential benefits of the proposed change, but she said she has concerns about how the cost will be allotted and whether the increase in student fees will be enough to ease the financial burden.
"If it can't be paid for and the services can't be improved, then it would be hard to implement a fare-free system," Broun said.
Carrboro now pays 15 percent of the fees that pay for the current busing plan, and the aldermen say they are skeptical about Carrboro's ability to fund the project without raising taxes.
"Raising taxes would be the only way that we could pay for it," said Alderman Diana McDuffee. "Carrboro will have to be cautious because it will be hard to afford."
McDuffee said the fare-free system is a good idea, but she does not think that it would be worth the raise in taxes. That would also mean that students who live in Carrboro would then be responsible for paying for the increase in both student fees and taxes.
But not everyone thinks that the proposed change will be financially impossible.
Chapel Hill Town Council member Bill Strom said he is thrilled about the prospects of a fare-free system, and thinks that the most underrated benefit is how it will help those in the lower income brackets.
"I am a supporter of the fare-free system," Strom said.
"It is good for the citizens, the University and the whole town. The cost is significant, but doable."
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