PART seeks help from Guilford

Feb. 20, 2013 @ 09:19 AM

A Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation official shared his agency’s financial struggles Tuesday with county commissioners along with a request for $24,800.
Scott Rhine, PART executive director, said the region’s mass transit agency needs the money to help balance the budget for the transportation service it provides for Guilford County. For the long term, the agency will need more money to restore service cuts to commuter bus routes.
Commissioners said they will study the requests for consideration later.
“We need to look at the entire package,” Democratic Commissioner Carolyn Coleman, a member of the PART board of directors, said during a  Board of Commissioners workshop.
Late last year, commissioners donated $394,000 to keep the county’s contracted van service, which PART operates, running. It provides  rides to medical appointments and jobs, as well as transportation for senior citizens. Many riders pay through Medicaid. But when ridership is down, the service loses money.
“It’s all about people calling in for trips on Medicaid,” said Myra Thompson, who administers the program for the Department of Social Services.
Rhine said the service needs 5,500 hours of operation per month to break even. He suggested a shift to per-ride compensation as “more efficient.” But the county may have to open the  contract to bidding from other vendors as well if a change is made, according to the discussions.
“At 5,500 hours, the budget is stable,” Rhine said. “Some months, we need more hours.”
To stabilize the service, Rhine suggested that the commissioners could let PART take over the service completely and approve an annual vehicle registration renewal fee of as much as $5 per vehicle.  Rhine estimated that  the fee could generate $1.5 million, or more.
“That would make the Guilford County program stable and replace the general fund money you provide,” Rhine said. “This is an opportunity to get buses on the streets and to help Guilford County.”
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.
PART has sliced its commuter bus service budget by millions of dollars to keep PART Express buses rolling for 35,000 passengers that use it. 
The 5 percent tax on rental car contracts and rider fares provide much of the agency’s funding. PART provides bus service to eight counties, but Guilford and Forsyth provide most of the government revenues. The rental car tax revenue has dropped since the Great Recession, Rhine said.

Transportation Services

Riders: Federal and state grants pay for most of the $4 million program. Sixty percent of riders pay fares through Medicaid.

Medicaid: Changes coming in the federal program could change income for agencies providing transportation for the needy.