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Chapel Hill, Carrboro residents eagerly use free buses

Posted June 24, 2008

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— It is estimated that transit systems statewide will lose about $10 million next year due to the rising cost of fuel. However, folks in Chapel Hill and Carrboro can still catch a free ride.

"It's very convenient,” bus rider Stephanie Moultrie said.

About 26,000 passengers, a third of the population the routes serve in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, ride buses.

"Ridership has been going through the roof,” said Steve Spade, director of Chapel Hill Transit, which is a department of Chapel Hill town government.

The number of riders has more than doubled since the system stopped charging fares in 2002. Ridership is up about 15 percent from last year alone; April saw the largest ridership increase, up 30 percent.

Before the transit system went fare-free, it averaged about 2.6 million people a year. This year, ridership is expected to hit nearly 7 million.

"Clearly the ridership increase that we are seeing now nationally is due to fuel price increases,” Spade said.

Ridership hasn’t fallen off with University of North Carolina students leaving for the summer, either. The system had planned to park some 60-foot buses over the summer, but with ridership up, the buses are still on the road.

As gas prices rise, the Chapel Hill Transit has cut out marketing and postponed buying buses to maintain the no-fare system.

Even with those cuts, and state and federal funding, municipalities are paying more to keep the buses running.

"Which means that the town of Carrboro, the town of Chapel Hill, and the university end up feeling the full effect of a cost increase,” Spade said.

So far, that has been about $300,000 in diesel fuel.

The system has also upped its budget for fuel next year by about $400,000.

Chapel Hill also has several hybrid buses. A study is under way to compare the fuel efficiency between the hybrids and the diesel fleet.

"You don't have to worry about the cost of transportation, and what with the cost of gas rising, you can easily catch a bus,” Moultrie said.


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  • Tired_of_LIBERALS Jun 26, 2008

    Like a hole in the head!

  • iamforjustice Jun 25, 2008

    We need a mass transit system. A lite rail would be perfect for this area.

  • White Eagle Jun 25, 2008

    Why is it that when we receive a service without an up front cost, people assume it is free? Do you really believe that the buses don't cost anything to run (i.e., fuel, drivers, maintenance)? Pointing that out has nothing to do with being a Republican or a Democrat, it's just plain common sense or are there still adults that believe in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus? At some point, the cost of subsidizing the buses will become too much and the town will have to either charge a fee or raise taxes.

    Just as the current candidates promise to provide all sorts of services, they all come with a price to all of us in the form of higher taxes. Remember that come November!

  • uncfan81 Jun 25, 2008

    "They are NOT free! The citizens' taxes pay for them - keep that in mind."

    Go figure a republican would say something like that. And I agree with katgoesloco... I'd rather pay a little in taxes to save a lot on gas!

  • Hans_Dieter_Peter Jun 25, 2008

    I can assure all, the benefits outweigh the cost exponentially. Now if only the rest of the area would get the idea...

  • katgoesloco Jun 25, 2008

    As a Chapel Hill resident, I'm very happy to pay a little in taxes to save a lot in gas by using the fare-free buses!

  • Tired_of_LIBERALS Jun 25, 2008

    They are NOT free! The citizens' taxes pay for them - keep that in mind.

  • n2justice Jun 25, 2008

    Is there any kind of transit like this for Hillsborough?