MOREHEAD CITY — Public transport will have a fresh look and an updated schedule this July, as Carteret County Area Transport officials unveil the efforts of a re-branding meant to increase use of the service.
CCATS officials seek to expand services offered by the county system, which currently takes calls on a pick-up and delivery basis. Starting Monday, July 7, CCATS will instate its first fixed route.
The schedule will run a 30-minute loop, leaving from the County Department of Social Services office on Craven Street in Beaufort and hitting Arendell at Seventh Street in Morehead City before stopping at the city’s Walmart.
“When you plan a route, the biggest thing you want to look at is population density, so where are the people?” CCATS Director Randy Cantor told the News-Times. “The second thing you look at is where they want to go and that’s why we started with Walmart.”
The proximity to other shopping venues in Morehead City prompted the route decision and a number of the store’s employees use the buses regularly, said Willie Townsend, CCATS senior administrative assistant.
The route is slated to run 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday at a fixed rate of $2.
“It’s been my intention since I started to do a deviated fixed route. If you start with one, you can jump off and keep building on it,” said Mr. Cantor.
CCATS will continue regular services, which pick up riders at their door and deliver them to a desired location, based on pre-scheduled trips.
Buses transport riders to all areas of the county, at varying fares, and can deliver as far as Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill at a $100 price point.
All fares are accepted as cash or check and pickup must be scheduled by 11 a.m. the previous day. Officials said they are working to develop a frequent rider pass, which they hope to launch in the coming year.
To compliment the new route, officials have also secured funding for aesthetic marketing efforts, updating the design on the exterior of the fleet buses, supplying new uniforms for drivers, revamping pamphlets and adding new bus stops signs along the route.
“Anyone can ride the service, it’s public transit. That’s what we do. The only difference is we come to your house and pick you up or come to your business and pick you up,” said Mr. Cantor of trying to attract local interest. “Everybody thinks ‘oh that’s for old people, that’s for people in wheelchairs’ – it’s not. It’s public transportation. It’s for anyone who lives in this county.”
CCATS ran more than 55,000 trips in the past fiscal year, according to budget documents, and expects closer to 63,000 in the coming one, which starts July 1.
The total county cost of the new initiatives should come in at zero dollars, said Mr. Cantor, given his grants pan out.
“Everything has been paid for through grants, the county doesn’t (directly) contribute anything to the system,” he said
Though the department generated a fiscal 2014-15 budget with $1.03 million in expenditures, three major state and federal grants are expected to cover the majority of operations and capital costs.
“This is a big ‘if’ because grants aren’t a sure thing,” Mr. Cantor said. “If I can get all the grants I’ve applied for and we do the amount of ridership I think we can do, then we’ll break even.”
Peel-backs in state transportation funding are hurting public transit initiatives in smaller regions such as Carteret, he noted.
“Most of the funding that’s been funneled through, or appears to have been funneled through, for fiscal 2015 will go to roads,” he noted. “Whatever is left over the transit systems are all fighting for right now. That’s how the picture looks for funding for the next few years.”
According to N.C. Department of Transportation filings, in fiscal 2013-14 North Carolina spread $116.3 million of a $4.3 billion transportation budget across all state public transit projects.
“If you’re a proponent of public transit, if you want people out of their cars, it doesn’t really give us a fair shake because how can we (function effectively) when you’re eliminating our funding?” said Mr. Cantor.
This year’s budget does include grant money for the replacement of four of the 15-fleet vehicles and funds an additional supervisor.
Despite worries, the department officials said they are confident their grants for the coming budget year will see approval upon adoption of the state budget by Tuesday, July 1, and would hear back at some point next month.
In conjunction with grants and rider fares, the department uses inter-county contractual transport agreements as an additional revenue stream.
Service agreements shuttle patrons of tax-based departments, such as social services and the Leon Mann Jr. Enrichment Center, allowing CCATS to cover more ground, physically and financially.
Prior to CCATS, the county contracted with First Transit Bus Service Solutions Co., out of Cincinnati, Ohio, to provide transport for needed departments.
Carteret County ended that contract at the close of fiscal 2011-12, during which time they spent $585,000 for the contracted transportation means, according to county finance.
Officials said the switch to in-house operations has proved both cost saving and effective.
“If (the county is) paying for them to transport their people, why would you give that money away to someone, like the cab company, while we are here? … It’s an income source,” said Mr. Cantor.
CCATS officials are also exploring other revenue opportunities, said Mr. Cantor, including mobile advertising inside the vehicles and establishing partnerships with more businesses in the hopes of growing fixed routes and transit ridership.
“We want to get the word out there and the word is anybody who wants to can ride,” he said.
Contact Jackie Starkey at 726-7081, ext. 232; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter @jackieccnt.