'Round and 'round with PART

Feb. 18, 2013 @ 05:20 AM

The discussion about the long-term future of the region’s mass transit agency seems like a real-life variation of a nursery rhyme phrase — the wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round, but they don’t seem to gain much traction.
For the past two years, the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation has contended with budget shortfalls, hikes in bus fares and cuts in trips to ferry passengers. The board of trustees of the mass transit agency has sliced its budget by millions of dollars, righting its finances enough to keep PART Express buses rolling for 35,000 passengers that rode last month. 
But the frustration about securing another long-term source of financing for PART continues to simmer, and on Wednesday it boiled back above the surface during the board of trustees monthly meeting.
During what seemed like an innocuous discussion about setting up a board retreat for planning, Greensboro Mayor Robbie Perkins questioned if a retreat would produce any results unless PART has a reasonable chance of a long-term funding source.
Visibly exasperated, Perkins said that the agency needs a “buy-in” from Guilford and Forsyth counties and the N.C. General Assembly. If the agency can’t secure some type of long-term revenue, PART may need “to fold the tent,” said Perkins, a PART trustee.
Though PART provides bus service to eight counties, Guilford and Forsyth by far have the most government revenues available among the area that the agency covers.
PART’s main local funding comes from two sources — the fares paid by PART Express passengers and a tax on local rental cars. But the rental car tax revenue has been stunted since the Great Recession.
More than a year ago, PART approached five counties — including Guilford, Davidson and Randolph — about a $1 license tag renewal fee on vehicle tags to fund the agency. But the proposal went nowhere because of political blowback from county commissioners and their constituents. The idea gained no ground despite PART’s board including elected officials from eight counties in the Piedmont.
At the meeting Wednesday morning, PART Chairwoman Becky Smothers acknowledged Perkins’ frustration. But Smothers, a High Point City Council member, said the board still needs to look at ways to approach state and local officials to lobby for PART’s viability. 

pjohnson@hpe.com | 888-3528