Asheville Regional Transit Coalition

ARTC Statement on COVID-19 Response and Use of CARES Act Funding

April 23, 2020


The Asheville Regional Transit Coalition (ARTC) is grateful for City leadership as Asheville continues to adapt to the COVID-19 crisis. We understand that this situation is unprecedented and challenging for everyone involved. In particular, as transit advocates, we applaud the City for making Asheville Rides Transit (ART) routes temporarily fare-free in response to this sudden economic downturn, for improving rider safety by limiting bus ridership, and for investing in greater cleaning precautions and shields for drivers while at work. 

We present the following requests to further improve the City’s response in this moment for the benefit of Asheville’s transit-dependent community. 

   1. Response Plan For Transit-Dependent Residents Impacted By System Cuts

Since the onset of COVID-19, ART routes have been cut back, and the number of passengers permitted on buses has been restricted to no more than nine passengers per bus. As a result, many Asheville residents who depend on ART have lost their only form of affordable transportation to access work, the grocery store, medical appointments and other essential needs. These transit-dependent residents include many of the essential workers our city is depending on during this crisis. 

Therefore, we request that the City develop an action plan by no later than May 1 to support transit-dependent residents who have lost service due to routes being cut or who are left behind at stops due to passenger restrictions. We urge the City to explore the following options to meet this need:

  1. Contract with Buncombe County to use Mountain Mobility.
  2. Contract with a third-party service such as Young Transportation & Tours.
  3. Consider contracting with a rideshare service such as Uber or Lyft. The City’s highest priority should be investing in local public services rather than corporate rideshare services, so this option should only be considered as a last resort.

In addition, to better understand how many riders are being left at bus stops and how often, we ask that RATP Dev be tasked with formally tracking this information. Since drivers are already instructed to call dispatch every time riders are left behind, it should be simple to keep a formal record of these instances. 

    2. Budget Allocations For CARES Act Public Transit Funding

In the same time period that pandemic-related challenges have emerged for our transit system and riders, so has a new source of public transit funding: the CARES Act. This $2 trillion-federal assistance package passed in response to the pandemic includes allocations for local transit systems like ART. The CARES Act designates approximately $3.3 million in public transit funding to the City of Asheville, and $2.2 million to fund transit in Buncombe County.

In its budget planning for FY2020 and FY2021, we strongly urge the City to spend the CARES Act funds in the following ways:

  1. Cover the transit budget gap for FY2020 that has resulted from lost revenue due to the pandemic and increased paratransit costs.
  2. Cover additional transit expenses resulting from the COVID-19 crisis, including: 
    1. Meeting the immediate needs of riders who have lost service (in the action plan requested above)
    2. Additional cleaning services and additional supplies
    3. Loss of fares
    4. Possible hazard pay for drivers 
  3. Continue to expand transit service. Transit is key to the long-term resilience of our community, and more Asheville residents than ever are likely to depend on the transit system as a result of this economic crisis. We urge you to prioritize the following two service expansions: 
    1. Expand evening hours as outlined in Year 1 of the Transit Master Plan
    2. Increase frequency on the S3 and S6 to better serve Hendersonville Road, as outlined in Year 2 of the Transit Master Plan


We request that the City Manager provide a proposal for how to spend the CARES Act transit funds before or at the budget briefing on May 12.

 

Sincerely,

The Asheville Regional Transit Coalition

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