The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday September 29th

Town council discusses need for new buses and aging fleet

The Chapel Hill Town Council heard a resounding message during its budget work session Wednesday: the town needs new buses.

Town Manager Roger Stancil said replacing older buses is a critical need for the town, and he's proposed allocating $400,000 to the transit department's budget to finance new buses in the coming fiscal year.

The town's older buses require more maintenance and cause significant delays when they break down, said Brian Litchfield, director of Chapel Hill Transit.

"They are older than the freshman class coming in that will be riding them next year," Litchfield said in his presentation before the council Wednesday.

Since 2007, the transit department's number of fixed route miles between road calls has fallen 46 percent from the industry standard of 30,000 miles to about 16,000 miles in between road calls.

Litchfield said buses breaking down while serving customers used to be a rarity for the department, but now it's common for many of his mechanics to be out servicing buses on the road.

"Every other day, we’re experiencing something like that," he said.

The town council discussed ways it could begin addressing its bus stops — many of which are falling into disrepair.

"If people feel like they’re second-class citizens standing in the middle of a mud patch waiting for a bus, then some won’t take the bus," said Councilwoman Donna Bell. "And others are going to resent taking the bus."

While she believes bus stops are key to maintaining strong ridership, Bell said she believes local organizations might be willing to help maintain certain bus stops.

Stancil said the town was able to balance the transit budget without dipping into any reserve funds. But while the proposed budget includes provisions for financing new buses, it does not allocate money for major capital repairs like fixing buses or stops.

Some members of the town council questioned whether the proposed budget — which doesn't include a tax increase for Chapel Hill residents — properly addresses the town's transit needs.

"I’m happy we’re not raising taxes," said Councilwoman Maria Palmer. "But if we’re not addressing some needs that are critical, and we lose ridership because we can’t see that ... I want to tell people it’s either/or. I want the ugly truth if we need to hear it."

The town council is in the middle of developing it's budget for the new fiscal year. It will hold a public hearing on the budget on May 19 and it is scheduled to adopt the budget June 9.

Contact the desk editor at city@dailytarheel.com

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