Saving the ride

Mar. 21, 2013 @ 02:25 AM

The Guilford County Board of Commissioners will take another look today at the county’s van service contract with the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation and a 90-day stop-service notice. 
PART has had financial problems operating the service used largely by Medicaid patients for doctor visits. PART took over the county contract in November 2011 after Guilford’s previous provider stopped service abruptly.
Since then, PART has asked commissioners for more money. Late last year, commissioners donated $394,000, and last month PART asked for $24,800 more. PART trustees voted 9-6 earlier this month to give the 90-day notice. Commissioners will discuss the service during a 3:30 p.m. workshop at the Old Courthouse that will be followed by a regular session during which commissioners could hire a new county manager.
Last month, Scott Rhine, PART executive director, told commissioners that a shift from an hours-of-operation reimbursement plan to per-ride compensation would be “more efficient.”  The service needs 5,500 service hours per month to break even. When ridership is down, the service loses money.
But the county may have to open the contract to bidding from other vendors as well if a reimbursement change is made, according to discussions last month.
For the past two years, PART has dealt with budget shortfalls and PART officials do not want to use money from other services to balance the budget of the county-affiliated service, Rhine said. To stabilize the service, Rhine suggested a PART takeover with support coming from an annual vehicle registration renewal fee of as much as $5 per vehicle. 
Federal and state grants pay for most of the $4 million van program. Sixty percent of riders pay fares through Medicaid. The 5 percent tax on rental car contracts and rider fares provide much of the PART’s funding.