Although the Raleigh Transit Authority recently voted to recommend the Raleigh City Council reinstate bus fares in July 2023, GoTriangle, GoDurham and GoRaleigh will remain fare-free for the time being.
In contrast, Chapel Hill Transit is a fare-free system and has been for two decades.
GoDurham, GoRaleigh, GoCary and GoTriangle suspended fares in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
GoTriangle provides regional bus and shuttle service and transit service for Wake County, Durham County, Orange County. The service may provide to Johnston County and Chatham County, GoTriangle Chief Communications Officer Eric Curry said.
Curry explained that fare-free ridership allowed better safety for bus operators and riders. Riders would enter through the rear side of the bus instead of the front of the bus, where they would traditionally pay the fare, thus limiting contact with the operator, Curry said.
He said that during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were fewer riders, as commuters were often staying home. GoTriangle staff has begun to explore the possible resumption of fare collection, which could begin in the third quarter of 2023.
GoTriangle is trying to make the best decision for customers and riders, he said.
“The bus fares just help to offset some of the daily costs necessary for the maintenance of buses,” he said.
In the past, average transit fares for GoTriangle have been around two dollars, and GoTriangle has handled affordability issues surrounding bus fares on a case-by-case basis, Curry said.
Nathan Spencer, the vice chairperson of the Raleigh Transit Authority, said fares were suspended at the beginning of the pandemic out of concern for social distancing.
Spencer, who voted against bringing back fares, said that until the transit system has affordable, reliable and quality service, fares should not be the main topic discussed.
“People are waiting hours to get to work,” he said. “That’s not appropriate.”
One reason for reduced rider frequency is bus driver shortages, he said. He added that more money should be put into public transit.
“If things like the climate and public transit and growth are a priority, then we need to be funding our services that way," Spencer said.
GoRaleigh is hoping to be almost entirely renewable in the next couple of years, he said.
Public transit provides people with economic mobility and ways to get to jobs and helps fight climate change, he said.
Locally, Chapel Hill Transit is a free transit system serving citizens of Chapel Hill, Carrboro and UNC.
“It has been fare-free for about 20 years,” Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils said.
Having a fare-free system increases the number of people who use public transit and impacts sustainability because the fare-free system increases the proportion of trips taken using Chapel Hill Transit instead of single occupancy vehicles, which is better for the environment, he said.
He said that Chapel Hill Transit has also started to purchase electric buses as part of its fleet.
“Public transportation is a necessity," Seils said. "Not everyone has access to a vehicle, and even those of us who do can’t always afford to maintain it, or insure it or fill up with gas."
He added that the value of having a public system is that it can be accessible to many people.
Seils also said that when GoTriangle went fare-free, it made the system more accessible to people who might have otherwise struggled to pay the fare.
The decision of the Raleigh Transit Authority will also not likely have much of an impact on Chapel Hill and Carrboro residents, Seils said.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.