On April 13, the Chapel Hill Town Council met virtually to discuss the Chapel Hill Transit budget for the upcoming 2022-23 fiscal year.
Chapel Hill Transit is the second-largest transit system in North Carolina, with 205 employees and 113 vehicles. Last fiscal year, the adopted budget for Chapel Hill Transit was $26.3 million.
The total budget for Chapel Hill Transit comes from several sources, including the Town of Chapel Hill, the Town of Carrboro, UNC as well as federal and state allocated funds. Last year, the Town of Chapel Hill contributed $5.5 million, the Town of Carrboro contributed $1.9 million and UNC contributed $8.5 million.
During the upcoming fiscal year, Chapel Hill Transit is likely to see an increase in federal funding for the first time in almost twenty years.
"What means for us is likely a 20 to 30 percent increase in our federal funding," he said.
One financial challenge the transit system will likely face this year in comparison to previous years is rising gas prices, according to Chapel Hill Transit Director Brian Litchfield.
An additional expense Chapel Hill Transit will face is salary adjustments, Litchfield said.
Litchfield said that the biggest impact transit will possibly have is to continue to improve wages for frontline team members.
Currently, he said Chapel Hill Transit pays $18.68 per hour for frontline workers — an improvement from previous years. However, this salary makes it difficult for individuals who work in Chapel Hill to also live there.
Litchfield said that while current wage issues can’t be addressed all at once, they are important to keep in mind during the budgeting process.
"Ultimately what that means is investing in our people that provide that service," he said.
Some of the recent services and initiatives that Chapel Hill Transit has been able to provide include implementing a short-range transit plan, providing shuttles to COVID-19 vaccination sites and food banks and providing ‘Sunday Service’ shuttles for religious gatherings.
For the upcoming fiscal year, Litchfield said Chapel Hill Transit hopes to manage and supervise equity training and maintain existing services and projects, such as a long-time collaboration with Art + Transit, which works to shed light on the fight against social injustice and racism by painting art onto Chapel Hill and Carrboro buses.
An additional priority of the transit system is implementing electric buses.
The town currently has three electric buses in use and eight on order, which total about $13 million, Litchfield said. Of its 93 buses currently in the fleet, 29 are hybrid, which run on diesel and electricity.
Council Member Tai Huynh said he supports the funding allocated toward Chapel Hill Transit's environmental goals.
“Our partners don't put in money unless we’re putting in money, and every dollar we put in, we get an additional three back,” Huynh said. “I can’t emphasize that investment enough, especially as it pertains to our climate action goals.”
Litchfield said Chapel Hill Transit needs to replace 25 buses by the end of the 2022-2023 fiscal year. The proposed budget currently seeks to replace nineteen fixed-route buses in 2022, with an additional six buses in 2023.
Council member Michael Parker expressed his gratitude to Litchfield and the entire transit department, particularly for the work they have done during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I don't know if all of us appreciate the enormous work that has gone on at Chapel Hill Transit, to keep those buses rolling and to keep people safe,” Parker said.
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