Will Chapel Hill Transit Really Start Charging Fares?

At a work session earlier this month, the Chapel Hill Town Council received a report on the fiscal sustainability of Chapel Hill Transit. The report describes CHT's current situation as akin to “tale of two cities.” One the one hand the system has been enormously successful in attracting new ridership and on the other hand facing some fairly significant obstacles because of that sucess. The report identifies funding as the chief area of concern, noting that the urgent need for capital expenses mostly to help replace the agency's aging fleet. 

In response to the meeting, a slew of stories appeared with headlines like "Chapel Hill Transit Could Start Charging For Bus Rides." That got me and a few of OrangePolitics' other editors thinking: what would happen if the system really were to start charging fares as a way to be more sustainable? After talking it over a bit, we came up with (at least) two potential issues:

  1. Ridership on the system exploded after it went fare-free in 2002, so it follows that if fares were introduced, we'd see at least some decline in ridership effectively eliminating the purpose of re-introducing fares in the first place: providing more money to expand service.
  2. In order to even begin collecting fares, all the buses would have to be retrofitted to accept them, which would in itself be a large capital expense (according to a 2013 article from The Atlantic fare boxes would run about $15,000 each for the 99 fixed-route buses in the fleet).

So, it's true that CHT could start charging fares in the future. Anything's possible and it's good to keep all our options on the table. But is it likely? We don't think so, and we hope not, too.

Live tweets from the work session from fellow OP editor Molly De Marco are collected in the Storify below. 



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