The OC Voice is a portion of the OC Report newsletter where local residents may have a platform to talk about local issues they care about. Michael Parker is running for re-election on Chapel Hill Town Council.
It’s time for public transit in the Triangle to be fare-free. Climate change and traffic are two challenges that our rapidly growing Triangle region needs to tackle — now. And while each is complex with no simple solution, there is one action that our local governments can take that would help both: adopting fare-free public transit.
In terms of climate change, transportation is the second-largest generator of greenhouse gases in North Carolina, and on the way to becoming the largest. The best way to address this is to get people out of their cars and into public transit.
Similarly, it has been shown that no matter how much asphalt we lay down, we can’t road-build our way out of traffic. We simply have to get folks out of their cars. We need to find ways to get our residents to use public transit.
How do we do this? In 2002, Chapel Hill, working in a close partnership with the University of North Carolina and the Town of Carrboro, made our bus system fare free. It was a bold step — and it worked. Within five years, the ridership of Chapel Hill Transit more than doubled. Today, our bus system, serving a community of about 85,000, carries over 7 million riders a year, making it the second-largest bus system by ridership in the state. Our system saves thousands of car trips a day. And we are the largest public fare-free system in the entire U.S.
The benefits of fare-free public transit are not confined to the environment and traffic. Having a fare-free system allows lower wealth individuals better access to jobs, education and the many cultural and recreational opportunities our communities offer. It is the ultimate win-win.
So why not the Triangle? I recognize that going fare-free will be neither easy nor fast. It will require that our cities, counties and bus systems work cooperatively with major employers and educational institutions. And fare-free doesn’t mean free — additional revenue sources will have to be found. But as with bus trips themselves, you never finish your journey if you don’t start it.
Not only can we do this, we have to. And the time to start is now. There’s simply too much riding on it.
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