Starting July 1st we get to pay $20 for a monthly bus pass, up from $15. This increase is part of the Transit Master Plan (TMP) approved by the city.
According to the TMP, the first of the “gradual” rate increases was supposed to coincide with the implementation of specified bus service improvements. That fact is in bold italics in the TMP – to emphasize it. Here’s the quote: “The adoption of this Transit Master Plan will direct City staff to implement the fare increase for tickets and passes. The fare increase should be implemented at the same time as the short-term service improvements are implemented, projected to be July 1, 2010.” (Near the bottom of page “7-5″ of the TMP.) In the paragraphs directly above this, they discuss how they are expecting ridership to decrease as a result of the price increase, and that having improved bus service coincide with the rate increase may mitigate the loss of ridership somewhat.
The service improvements aren’t going to happen any time soon, but we get to pay the increased fares anyway. I got an e-mail on June 21st from Mariate Echeverry, Transportation Planning Manager, and she said “City Council has not approved yet the inclusion of Sunday service in any of the routes. We don’t have a timeframe at this point to provide that service. City Council approved some route changes in the first phase of the implementation and those will be in place by the end of this calendar year.” Paul Van Heden, Transit Commission Vice Chair, e-mailed me the same day saying “The first phase of schedule/route changes should be complete by the end of this year.” (Note: this information contradicts an article in the Asheville Citizen Times on May 25, “Asheville Transit holds meeting to address rate increases,” which says City Council approved the rate increases for July 1st, and also approved funding the service improvements. If you knew what the TMP said, you would read that to mean the service improvements were also happening when they were supposed to, on July 1st.) So it’s going to be a few months until we get the service improvements. What’s the problem? Just run the busses on Sunday. Just run them until 10:00pm.
Here’s what short term improvements were supposed to start on July 1st:
- 5 corridors gain 30 minute service, and service to 10:00pm
- 6 bus routes get service on Sunday
- 2 additional routes, and 4 service extensions to new areas
- new shelter and sidewalk construction begins
(See the Transit Master Plan, page “ES-3.” Specific details about each route are on pages “7-6″ to “7-8.” Note again that page “7-5″ says these “short term” changes were supposed to start on July 1st, and were supposed to coincide with the rate increase, along with the reason they should coincide.)
The Transit Master Plan is here: http://www.ashevillenc.gov/uploadedFiles/Residents/Transportation/City_Bus_Service/Transit%20Master%20Plan%20-%20Final.pdf (41MB .PDF file)
I knew about the TMP. When I heard the fares were going up on July 1st I was happy that we would finally have Sunday bus service. But I quickly found out that probably wasn’t happening anytime soon after talking to a couple bus drivers. So instead of visions of the new service, all the problems of the past started running through my head. These past problems are listed at the end of this article.
Regarding the fare increase, Asheville justifies this based on what other cities are charging. They say other cities don’t give such good discounts for monthly and yearly passes. (See the TMP, pg. “7-5.”) So Asheville wants to join the crowd of cities that don’t have economical, environmentally friendly public transit. They use those other cities as an example of what to do – raise the rates of the monthly bus passes to match other cities – with full knowledge that raising the rates will cause a decline in ridership (TMP, pg. “7-5.”).
Asheville has stood out from other cities, as is seen in on the “best cities” lists it has been on. (See http://www.exploreasheville.com/press-room/asheville-quality-of-life-awards/index.aspx and http://www.mountainx.com/news/2010/060910making_the_a_list for some examples.) Apparently the current city council doesn’t care about that disappearing, and Asheville just joining the crowd, and being another “stinking, polluted, town” (the song “One night in Bangkok” came to mind).
I would like to see Asheville have FREE public transportation. It’s the right thing to do. If the buses were one time, ran every 1/2 hour, ran until 10:00pm, ran on Sunday, and were FREE – people would use it. They wouldn’t have to pay for a car, gas, insurance, maintenance, parking – and they wouldn’t be polluting the environment and depleting natural resources. That would definitely keep Asheville standing out as an example. The Asheville city council just wants to join the crowd, raise the rates to match other cities, and watch in anticipation as their expectations that ridership will decrease come to fruition.
While I was thinking about writing this article, I noticed two posters in the bus about “Strive Not to Drive” – advocating the taking the bus, carpooling, or biking to reduce pollution. This is from a recent article:
“Get ready for Strive Not to Drive Week”
“We’re thrilled to have this opportunity to share the bus system with our fellow Asheville residents and celebrate a form of transportation that’s economical, environmentally-friendly and community-oriented.” (The week of May 15-21, 2010.)
(Note “economical” and “environmentally friendly” are listed together. So much for economical. So much for increasing ridership. So much for the environment. So much for “Strive Not to Drive.”)
Here’s a quote from the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s main web page: “Economical and environmentally friendly public transportation is here to serve, connecting people and places in North Carolina.”
(Note that “economical and environmentally friendly” are listed together. So much for economical. With the expected decreased ridership – so much for environmentally friendly.)
Asheville seems to be known for being environmentally friendly:
- Asheville is on this list as the 25th most environmentally friendly city in the country. (Note that one of the listed criteria is “mass transit usage.”)
I wonder if Asheville will be on the list in the future.
Here’s another one:
- Asheville is #9 in “The 10 Best US Cities to be in for Earth Day”
The increase in fares was supposed to be gradual, spread out over 5 years (TMP, pg. “7-5″). A 33% increase is not gradual. That’s equivalent to gas going from $2.50 a gallon to $3.33 a gallon in one day. If they did one price increase every 6 months, 10 times (5 years), then the current increase would only have been $1.70.
More increases are to come. The city wants to cut the discounted rate for monthly bus passes from 62% to 20%. (They base that on an expected 40 uses of the pass per month.) That means the monthly bus passes will eventually cost $32. (This month they were $15, on July 1st they’ll be $20.) That’s over twice what we are paying now.
When I talk about fares I am not talking about the $1 / ride cash fare. That isn’t relevant to anyone who regularly uses the bus. I hardly ever see anyone put money in the box. They don’t plan to change the cash fare.
If you think my complaint of a $5 increase is ridiculous, maybe you would consider making a donation to the Asheville Homeless Network (IRS 501(c)3 non-profit charity), which tries to provide active members with a monthly bus pass. They were providing them monthly up to 2 months ago, but there is no money left. http://ashevillehomeless.org/
Almost the end.
Here are the past problems with bus service I mentioned above:
- Those several days in the winter when the bus wasn’t running, but the cars were doing fine, and there was no ice on the roads. I called the main transit number one morning asking where the bus was, and the guy acted like I was supposed to know they announced on TV the previous night they would be starting the busses 4 hours late. It was 7:45am. I said there’s no ice, and the cars are doing fine, so why aren’t they running to get us to town? He said the forecast was for ice. I said well there’s no ice, so where are the busses? He said “you got out of the wrong side of bed.” My voice was normal. That was his attitude. You actually expect bus service? I said why aren’t they on standby in case of a bad forecast. He hung up on me.
- One day I called Mariate Echeverry, the Transportation Planning Manager, and asked her why the busses weren’t running the previous day. She said they were expecting ice on a couple of the routes. I said “a couple of the routes? What about everyone else?” She said most people get connections elsewhere from downtown and they weren’t going to run the busses downtown when they couldn’t complete a connection. I said I see nearly everyone get off the bus downtown, and again, what about everyone else? So you just shut everything down if one bus can’t run. She had no response. That was truly ridiculous. Regarding the busses being delayed in the morning, I asked her why the busses weren’t on standby in case of no ice. She talked about the city deciding to delay the busses the previous night. I asked again why they weren’t on standby, and she just repeated herself, not answering the question. (The problem of bus service starting much later in the morning, even though there was not ice, kept happening.)
- There was no bus service on Monday, April 5th, due to “Easter.” I complained to several city officials, saying Monday is not a State or Federal holiday, and people need to get to work. One of them said, “well, the busses annual calender has been available, it shouldn’t be a surprise…” – like that was even relevant, and who would imagine the bus wouldn’t run on a non-holiday. I wrote the blog “Scrutiny Hooligans” about this, and got a reply from Gordon Smith, who turned out to be a member of the Asheville City Council. (It’s his blog. I was just searching for places to try to get the word out, and that blog came up on Google.) We exchanged a few e-mails, and in response to my question as to “why doesn’t the city just say the busses will run” he said that state law prohibits the city from dealing directly with labor unions, and the in between is a management company, and they would have to negotiate a new contract to fix that – but he would push for that to happen. Amazing. State law says the City of Asheville can’t tell the Asheville city bus system that they have to run on Monday, April 5th – a non-holiday, when everyone that depends on the bus needs to get to work/town/etc.
- The days where a bus is 20-30 minutes late, and it stays that way for several hours. In other places when a bus is that late, they send out another bus on time to get in back on schedule (so there are two on the route at the same time until the late one gets back).
- On two occasions I was at a stop 5 minutes before the designated time (each route has a few designated times listed for certain stops on the route map), and when I called 20 minutes later I found out the bus had already been there. When a bus is more that 5 minutes early at a designated stop, he is supposed to sit and wait. I’ve been burned twice when they didn’t follow their rules, and I had to sit and wait an hour for the next bus.
- The stops that don’t have bus stop signs. You hear this one a lot. I’ve been burned by this. I was at Discount Shoes (I didn’t take the bus there), and called for a ride (it’s an extension you call for, and they go out there) and the driver zipped through the parking lot and left without picking me up. I called and they said I had to be standing in a specific place way out past the front of the store. I said “there’s no sign anywhere.” I was in the area a few months later. There still wasn’t one. So they are going to let it happen again. One day the bus driver griped at a guy who wasn’t standing where he wanted him to at the Farmers Market. The guy said there’s no sign, and the driver pointed and said “that’s where you need to be.”
(The opinions expressed in this article do not represent any official position of the Asheville Homeless Network.)