Patrons of Burlington’s Link Transit bus system may soon find themselves scrounging for change to feed the farebox as they once did in the early days of this municipal service.
Earlier this month, John Andoh, the city’s transit manager, presented Burlington’s city council with a plan to reinstate this $1 fare, which the council had suspended at the height of coronavirus pandemic, when an increase in federal funds largely supplanted the need for the bus system’s user fee.
Under this plan, which Andoh formally shared with the council during a work session on June 5, each one-way trip on one of Link Transit’s buses would cost $1 a person – although the sum would be reduced to 50 cents for seniors, students and the disabled. These same individuals would also receive a 50 percent discount on a 31-day bus pass, which would otherwise cost $20 per passenger.
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Andoh went on to estimate that the city would have to spend $5,000 to reinstall fare boxes before it can reintroduce these charges, although the proceeds from the fares would bring in $50,000 a year to offset the bus system’s operational expenses.
During Andoh’s appearance during the work session, Burlington’s mayor Jim Butler recalled that the council had always intended to revisit its fare-free policy when it implemented it in the midst of the pandemic.
“As Link continues to grow and evolve and we have future expansion needs,” he added, “we started having conversations several months ago about how we transition this thing back to a more traditional system.”
Andoh added that, broadly speaking, many mass transit systems have observed a temporary drop in ridership when they introduced fares or increased the cost of the service.
“So, it’s likely that initially people will not be making as many trips on the transit system,” he told the city’s elected leaders.
At Andoh’s behest, the council agreed to hold a public hearing on July 18 as a prelude to the potential reintroduction of the bus system’s fares.
In an interview before the council’s work session, Andoh acknowledged he’s aware that officials in Graham have complained that Link Transit’s fare-free policy has brought homeless people from Burlington to their own downtown business district. This area is currently served by the bus system thanks to a county appropriation despite Graham’s longstanding decision to opt out of the Burlington-based service. Andoh nevertheless said that the proposed reintroduction of fares has nothing to do with these gripes from Graham’s municipal leaders.
“The fare has nothing to do with that,” he assured The Alamance News. “But we’re meeting with Graham to resolve any of their concerns.”