Chapel Hill Transit celebrated its 45-year anniversary on Wednesday. Local and regional leaders came together to speak about the past and future of the system.
Speakers included U.S. Rep. David Price, who represents Orange County, Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle, UNC vice chancellor Jonathan Pruitt and the man of the hour, former Chapel Hill Mayor Howard Lee.
Lee, who started the transit system during his mayorship, spoke about its original inspirations.
"One is the University’s interest in wanting to provide opportunities for students to move around the campus and to move around the community,” he said. “The second was that we were really choking ourselves to death by not having enough parking for students."
The former mayor also compared the evolution of the transit system to the evolution of modern automobiles.
“We had a very crude bus system that ran in a very limited area,” he said. “But to look at the system today, and what it is, it’s absolutely amazing with the kind of buses that are being driven around the community and serving the citizens.”
Chapel Hill partners with the Town of Carrboro to fund Chapel Hill Transit, and Board of Aldermen member Damon Seils said the town is happy to be a partner.
“Carrboro today is spending almost $2 million in its annual operating budget in the Chapel Hill Transit, which is the biggest item in our budget every year,” he said. “Which is pretty impressive for a small town like ours.”
The speakers focussed on the successes of the transit system, which flourished in an area that many felt was incompatible with a transit system, Price said.
He said as chairman of the House Transportation Appropriation Subcommittee, it is his position to make sure there is federal funding available for transit systems like Chapel Hill’s to utilize. He said he hopes Chapel Hill’s system can highlight the successes of a transit system in a smaller community.
"I think Chapel Hill Transit has been the kind of vanguard of transit,” he said. “It showed that it can work and can be successful and then become an example for the region."
Lee said he hopes the system will continue to serve as a model for others to emulate.
“But I also see it tying in very nicely to the regional areas like Durham, Orange County, Chapel Hill, Hillsborough, Chatham County, Pittsboro and serving all these areas as a partnership with other bus systems throughout the Triangle,” he said.
Lee said he is proud of the system he started and the lasting impact it has had on the community.
“While I didn't start out thinking this was going to be one of the crown jewels and my legacy, I certainly see it as being the one that will probably have the greatest impact over the longest period of time,” Lee said.
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