Still able to ride

Jun. 16, 2013 @ 03:00 PM

The region’s mass transit agency, which provides up to 500,000 bus rides a year, should survive financially to keep carrying passengers for another 12 months.
The board of trustees of the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation, which has been beset by financial problems the past two years that had the agency approaching insolvency, last week approved a budget for its new fiscal year. But reflecting the tough times that have battered PART, the 2013-14 fiscal year budget totals $5.4 million, down 10.5 percent from the current budget expiring June 30 and one-third the size of a budget that PART had before the onset of the Great Recession.
Still, the mass transit agency providing rides to passengers in nine counties will be able to maintain its current level of service. During the past two years, PART cut bus trips, including ones in High Point and Davidson County, and increased fares to balance its budget.
PART Chairwoman Becky Smothers, who serves as a High Point City Council member, said she’s more optimistic about the agency’s future. In the past, Smothers raised the possibility of PART dissolving because of its financial difficulties.
At its most recent board meeting, Smothers said PART still has some unresolved issues that may have to be addressed during the new fiscal year beginning July 1. The state budget that will be passed by the N.C. General Assembly could have a detrimental impact on PART and other mass transit providers, Smothers said.
But on the positive side, the agency may have a chance to tap into a more steady stream of federal dollars, said PART Executive Director Scott Rhine.
The federal government is beginning to more fully recognize regional mass transit systems across the country such as PART, which may allow PART to tap into hundreds of thousands of dollars in new funding sources.  Currently, federal money makes up 3 percent of PART’s revenues, Rhine said.
PART’s revenues come from three primary sources — 37 percent from a tax on rental cars hired out in the region; 28 percent from a state of North Carolina grant; and 15 percent from bus fares and other passenger passes.

pjohnson@hpe.com | 888-3528