As our community recovers from Covid-19, building a more resilient and accessible public transit system in Buncombe County is more important than ever. Take action below to call on the Buncombe County Commissioners and Asheville City Council to increase funding for public transit in their budgets this year!
Here’s what we’re asking the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners:
Here’s what we’re asking Asheville City Council:
The Buncombe County Commissioners and Asheville City Council are both deciding what will be in their yearly budgets this month. Make sure transit makes the cut by contacting our local governments below. We hope you’ll personalize your message and write about why better transit is important to you!
Asheville Regional Transit Coalition Requests for Buncombe County Transit Funding
April 12, 2021
Dear Buncombe County Board of Commissioners,
The Asheville Regional Transit Coalition (ARTC) consists of local transit riders and experts, elected officials, and advocates for workers, families living in poverty, the elderly and the environment. Together, we have decades of experience implementing and advocating for public transit systems all over the country.
To make public transit run on time, all day and more often in Buncombe County, we urge the Buncombe County Commission to respond to the need for increased transit access by funding a County Transit Master Plan and restoring its paratransit subsidy for the Asheville Redefines Transit (ART) system in this year’s County budget.
Build Back Better: The Need For Transit
As Buncombe County residents continue to suffer from the severe economic setbacks of the pandemic, it is critical that the County invests in public transit as a way to make life more affordable and accessible for those who call Buncombe home.
It is well-documented that car-based transportation is a significant expense that many in our community cannot afford or struggle to afford. This crisis worsens as more and more residents are priced out of Asheville and moving to surrounding towns and rural areas. Transit is a key improvement that addresses every Community Focus Area Buncombe County has identified in its 2020-2025 Strategic Plan:
Update on Advocacy Regarding Municipal Quarter-Cent Sales Tax Authority
Currently, North Carolina law only gives counties – not municipalities – the authority to implement their own quarter-cent sales taxes. Given this restriction and Asheville’s significant and specific need for a new source of transit funding, Senator Mayfield introduced a bill this March at the NC General Assembly to expand this tax authority to include municipalities. Unfortunately, an ideological difference in Senate leadership has made it clear that this bill will not move forward.
This firm response from Senate leadership means that any quarter-cent sales tax to fund our region’s transit expansion must be introduced at the county level. Such a tax must be voted on by county residents during an election year, with the earliest option being in November 2022.
County-wide transit taxes have been approved by voters elsewhere in North Carolina in Mecklenburg, Wake, Durham and Orange counties. However, the public is unlikely to vote for a new tax for transit in Buncombe County as long as the County lacks a clear understanding of its specific transit expansion priorities and funding needs.
In light of this information, the Asheville Regional Transit Coalition urges the County to take the following actions:
1) Fund a Transit Master Plan process at the County level: Approximately $115,000
While Asheville adopted its own Transit Master Plan in 2018, this plan largely focused on transit within the city limits. A County Transit Master Plan would help meet the following goals:
Why a Transit Master Plan is Necessary In Addition to a Comprehensive Plan
A Transit Master Plan will identify the most efficient and logical transit expansions to best support affordability in Buncombe County over the next decade. It is more specific and concrete in scope than a Comprehensive Plan, and while complementary to the overarching Comprehensive Plan, it must be treated and funded separately.
2) Restore the County Subsidy For Paratransit: $1.3 Million Per Year
In order for the City to operate a fixed route transit system, a complementary paratransit system must be in place. As the County runs Mountain Mobility, in the past the County has provided paratransit service to the City at a reduced rate and subsidized the costs. Over the past couple years, however, the County has reduced and then discontinued the subsidy for paratransit service within the City, creating an additional strain on Asheville’s already underfunded transit system. This decision is out of line with the County’s stated goal of expanding paratransit services named in the Resident Well-Being focus area of its 2025 Strategic Plan, and has made it even more difficult for the City to fund expanded transit for the residents who need it.
The current fiscal year budget for paratransit was $1.7 million, but there have been significant cost-savings as a result of lesser use during the pandemic and a new contract rate for the County. The estimated expense for FY 21 is $750,000, while the projected budget for FY 22 is $1.3 million under the new contract rate.
The association between transportation and medical access is clear: recent national studies showed that 25% of missed medical appointments were caused by transportation barriers and that patients with transportation issues were twice as likely to miss filling prescriptions compared to those without that barrier. As the body of government that typically focuses on health and human services – and that has a significantly larger budget than the City of Asheville – it is imperative that the County restore this annual subsidy to connect county residents to the health and human services they need without putting additional pressure on the City’s transit budget.
Immediate Funding Opportunity For Transit: American Rescue Plan Act of 2021
The $1.9 trillion stimulus package recently signed into law by President Biden created a significant influx of funds for local governments. For its share, Buncombe County is estimated to have received $51 million. Given this recent and extensive increase in funding and the relatively low cost of the above items, we call on the County to allocate funding for a county-wide Transit Master Plan and to restore its subsidy for paratransit in this year’s budget.
Thank you for your attention to this matter, and we invite you to reach out to our coalition with any questions.
The Asheville Regional Transit Coalition
Michael Wackerly, AARP NC Mountain Region
Rev. Jeff Jones, Better Buses Together & Asheville Transit Committee
Greg Borom, Children First/Communities in Schools
Vicki Meath and Carmen Ybarra, Just Economics of WNC
Eliza Stokes, MountainTrue
Sam Harben, Sierra Club WENOCA
Cat Turbyfill, Master of Public Health (MPH)
Sabrina Alvarado, Warren Wilson College
NC Senator Julie Mayfield
Asheville City Councilmember Kim Roney
Buncombe County Commissioner Parker Sloan
Contact: Vicki Meath, Director of Just Economics
E: email@example.com P: 828-301-7291
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:
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:
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.
The Asheville Regional Transit Coalition
Children First/Communities In Schools
Just Economics of WNC
Pisgah Legal Services
“When you can’t afford a vehicle, public transit serves as a portal to just about everything — food, healthcare, work, school and more. At least, that’s how transit advocates believe it should work.”
Asheville’s new Transit Master Plan will expand and modernize Asheville’s transit system over the next ten years. Thank you Asheville City Council for approving it!
Back in April, the Asheville Regional Transit Coalition sent a letter to the Asheville City Council asking them to improve the Asheville bus service by increasing transit funding by $5 million over the next five years. We are thrilled to report they have approved a substantial budget expansion for the next fiscal year! Read More
The City is currently in the midst of planning for next year’s budget. This process provides some important opportunities to put Asheville on track for transit that operates in more areas, for longer hours, seven days a week. Read the letter we just sent City Council asking for dedicated funding in service of those goals and raising some important concerns related to those goals, and send your own message to City Council at AshevilleNCCouncil@ashevillenc.gov