Council considers new tax to cover new bus service
BY TODD LUCK
The City Council is considering adding night and weekend service to 10 bus routes and raising property taxes an additional half cent to cover it.
On Jan. 2, the Winston-Salem Transit Authority replaced its old routes with 30 new ones, including new circulator Adams Larson and crosstown routes. The
Biggest route overhaul in WSTA history was designed to reduce ride time and provide more direct routes to destinations, but proved controversial when many complained they lost service.
WSTA received 473 comments on the new routes that have resulted in modifications to nine of them. These changes have cost little or no money, and include altering routes to provide service to East Forsyth High School, Skyline Village, Wake Forest University and Kimberley Park Elementary School . Routes were also modified to provide service to Senior communities like Arbor Acres, Assembly Terrace and Cherry Hill Apartments. Some of the changes were the result of petitions like one requesting more service for the Wake Forest area that had 1,243 signatures.
The Winston-Salem Urban League recently came out with suggestions to improve the new routes, including more night and weekend service, service every 30 minutes during peak hours on popular routes, fewer holiday closures, better system mapping and better communication with riders.
The changes presented to the Public Works committee last week involved adding night and weekend service to routes. Many riders complained about the loss of those services with the new routes. The routes that could get new night and full weekend service are 80, 86, 90, 94, 104, 106 and 108. Route 101 and 107, which already have night and Saturday service, could get Sunday service. Night and Saturday service is proposed for route 91 and 92.
These changes require an increase in man-hours for drivers, which can be expensive. Adding night service costs around $55,000 per route. Adding Saturday service to a route costs around $36,000 and Sunday service costs around $25,000. The total cost for all changes would be $1 million. If under-performing night and weekend service on Route 100 is eliminated, it would save $216,000, reducing the modification expenses to $796,537.
The modifications would be part of next fiscal year’s budget. There’s already a 3 cent tax proposed in the budget preview, with 1 cent going to cover WSTA’s increased expenses, including route changes made thus far. City Manager Lee Garrity estimated it would take another half cent tax increase to cover all the proposed night and weekend service additions.
“I am reluctant to incumber next year’s budget with a recommendation for full funding,” said City Council Member John Larson, who felt the changes should be spread over a couple years.
While City Council members James Taylor and Dan Besse were willing to recommend full adoption of the changes, Larson and Denise “D.D.” Adams wanted to prioritize them and implement the most important ones in next year’s budget.
“I don’t see it all happening,” said Adams.
Council Member Jeff MacIntosh said this year’s new, more expensive routes were a “$500,000 bomb” with unsatisfactory results and needed to be sure the additional funding will reap better results.
WSTA Director Art Barnes said that ridership has dropped, which is typical when a route overhaul happens. It’s down nearly 53,000 in February and March from the same time last year. He expects ridership rebound over time.