Elon’s town council has formalized its agreement to have the town join Burlington’s Link Transit bus system, adding seven stops within the town of Elon to an existing bus route (the so-called Blue Line) that already serves locations in Gibsonville and west Burlington.
But on the way to doing so, the council members objected to and ultimately scrapped a last-minute proposed addition to the Link Transit contract that would have restricted the operations of the Alamance County Transportation Authority (ACTA) within the town limits.
Much of the discussion had taken place the previous week during an earlier council meeting when there was general agreement with the idea of having the municipality join and contribute to the bus system on a sort of “trial” basis.
The town’s residents will be able to ride free of charge on any of Link Transit’s bus routes, whose destinations include Alamance Regional Medical Center, several shopping centers, assorted county facilities, and the main campus of Alamance Community College in Graham.
However, it was the addition of a section in the pending contract that proposed to restrict the ability of ACTA to continue serving residents within the town that drew most of the discussion at this week’s town council meeting.
Members repeatedly asked why Link Transit wanted to restrict ACTA’s operations. “To eliminate duplication,” was the response from John Andoh, who serves as Burlington’s Link Transit manager who came to Elon’s town council meeting.
Andoh explained that Link Transit operates a “door-to-door” service that would, in many cases, be available to elderly or disabled Elon residents. However, it was also explained that some people now served by ACTA would not be eligible for the “door-to-door” service, and would be required to walk to the closed bus stop.
While Link Transit’s provision of door-to-door, or paratransit, service is a federal requirement, Elon would be required to pay extra for those rides.
“Why would the town take on that cost?” puzzled councilman Monti Allison.
It was explained that currently citizens can ride the ACTA bus for free, although ACTA executive director Peter Murphy, who had come to the Elon council meeting to oppose the proposed restrictions on his agency, explained that charges have been suspended during the Covid pandemic; if costs are reinstated, riders would again be responsible for those charges.
Still, several councilmen said it’s better to have citizens who have a choice of what method of transportation they want – and if they’re willing to pay for it, why restrict their access?
Additionally, it was noted that Link Transit trips, even with door-to-door service, may take longer than the current ACTA rides.
“If there’s no downside to keeping ACTA, I would want the most access for our citizens.”
– Elon town council member Stephanie Bourland
Council member Stephanie Bourland said that the amount of energy expended by elderly, for instance, could be “exhausting” if residents are required to use Link Transit as opposed to the current ACTA availability.
Added Bourland, “If there’s no downside to keeping ACTA, I would want the most access for our citizens.”
Mayor Emily Sharpe questioned Andoh about whether other cities have been required to have the prohibition on ACTA access. Andoh said that Gibsonville will be asked to add a similar prohibition on ACTA access to its next consideration of a contract extension.
Councilman Mark Greene seemed to summarize the emerging council consensus that it “might work better for our citizens” to have access to both transportation services.
Bourland ultimately made the motion to approve the Link Transit contract minus its prohibition on ACTA service within town limits; her motion passed unanimously.
Another, separate agenda item to adopt a resolution eliminating the ACTA access was correspondingly struck from the council’s agenda.
While council members had previously discussed joining Link Transit on May 1, they decided this week to make Elon’s participation correspond to the bus system’s plan for an additional hour of service beginning on May 22. Bus routes will operate between 8:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Sharpe emphasized that Elon’s participation is a “pilot” basis, with the town to reevaluate in a year, before the following fiscal year’s budget begins July 1, 2024.
However, the provisions of the agreement specify that Elon would have to notify Link Transit by December 31, 2023 if it wants to withdraw by April 2024.
Meanwhile, the council agreed to spend $3,152 for the remainder of the current fiscal year, May 22 through June 30, 2023; and will spend $28,347 for the full fiscal year, July 1, 2023 through June 30, 2024.
Burlington city council action the same night
While Elon was changing the terms of its agreement at its 6:00 p.m. meeting Tuesday night, Burlington’s city council, which met at 7:00, gave the green light to an expansion of the city’s Link Transit bus system into the municipal limits of Elon, although with the version that included the section Elon’s town council struck out.
The Burlington council unanimously signed off on this proposal as part of a “consent agenda” of presumably routine items that its members adopted en bloc during a regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday.
It was not immediately clear whether Burlington’s council will need to pass an amended version of the agreement, reflecting Elon’s change disallowing the prohibition on ACTA service within its jurisdiction.
Aside from the agreement with Elon, Burlington’s council also agreed to extend Link Transit’s weekday hours from 8:00 to 9:30 p.m. in order to accommodate retail and healthcare workers as well as students at Elon University and Alamance Community College. The change is to take effect Monday, May 22.