Fare-free busing is the result of a collective effort between Chapel Hill, Carrboro and the University's Department of Public Safety. The service, which allows all public transportation patrons to ride with no extra fee, began Jan. 2.
Thus far, the project has been heralded as a success, and ridership numbers have increased on nearly all routes.
As the Chapel Hill Town Council begins work on its 2002 budget and DPS struggles to find funding for its share of fare-free busing's costs, there has been speculation that both towns and the University will be unable to supply satisfactory funding for the transit program.
When UNC students agreed last February to pay an extra $8.49 in student fees to help pay the University's 40 percent share of the service's cost, Chapel Hill and Carrboro agreed to pay the remaining 60 percent.
The total annual contribution from the University's coffers of $500,000 is projected to bring the DPS's debt to more than $2 million for the 2002-03 fiscal year.
DPS debt is expected only to increase in the coming years with several new parking decks scheduled for construction.
But Mary Lou Kuschatka, director of Chapel Hill Transportation, said sufficient finance planning by the three partners will ensure the system's success.
"There are three partners -- Chapel Hill, Carrboro and UNC -- and with each budget year, each of them have to have the money to support it," Kuschatka said.
"It will take the commitment of all of them to make this work in the long run," she added.