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County board divided over chair’s fare-free city-county transit plan
Wednesday, 01 January 2020 14:21

From Staff Reports

Public transit in Asheville and Buncombe County need to be fare-free — and county taxpayer funds should be expended to fund such a proposition, at least according to Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chairman Brownie Newman.

 In an op-ed recently published in the Asheville Citizen Times, Newman proposed that Buncombe increase its investment in transit by $1 million each year and partner with Asheville to enable people to make use of city and county transit systems at no cost.

“Tackling the challenges of growth and the climate crisis compels us to look for innovative solutions,” Newman wrote. “Creating a fare-free transit system is a proven, effective policy to increase use of community transit.”

The ACT added, “The commissioners who have responded to the op-ed are split on the proposal, with two Democrats voicing support, one Republican giving the idea a hard ‘no,’ and another Republican said he’s up for considering continued expansion of the transit system, but doesn’t feel comfortable supporting an additional $1 million investment without further study.

“That additional funding Newman proposed would offset the $700,000 the chairman says Asheville’s public bus line, ART, generates annually. The additional $300,000 would go toward improving and expanding transit operations.”

Newman, a Democrat, wrote that “a more viable and better utilized transit system” could directly impact traffic congestion, improve air quality, provide better commuting options and free up parking spaces for those who drive.

He also wrote that he hopes Asheville and Buncombe will explore fare-free ridership. If both governments support it, he wants the county to appropriate funds in the 2020 budget for that purpose.

Meanwhile, Republican Commissioner Joe Belcher told the ACT during a recent telephone interview that “he was happy to support county funding for an ART bus line extension that was unanimously approved by the board of commissioners earlier this month. Next year’s funding for the extension is expected to come in around $61,000.

“But Belcher said he was surprised to see Newman’s ‘leap’ to proposing $1 million without first measuring the success of that line.

“‘I’ve not seen any information on the efficiency of the ART or on whether it would be a good investment for the county or not,’” Belcher told the ACT.


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