Federal grant helps extend eastern Wake bus service through 2015

amoody@newsobserver.comFebruary 7, 2014 

— Raleigh City Council passed a budget amendment last week recognizing grant funding that will help cover bus services for eastern Wake towns to and from Raleigh through the summer of 2015.

The Job Access Reverse Commute grant, designed to provide families access to jobs, is a 50-50 matching grant worth $345,030. The Federal Transit Administration covers half, plus about $16,500 in administrative fees. Triangle Transit and local municipalities combine to cover the remaining $164,300.

The grant has been awarded ever since the ZWX (Zebulon-Wendell-Raleigh express) route was established in late 2009 and the KRX (Knightdale-Raleigh express) route in early 2010. It continues to help cover the initial services – three trips in the morning, three trips in the afternoon – that were offered for both routes before service was doubled on the ZWX route in December.

“Since the Wendell, Zebulon and Knightdale routes have been initiated, we have had grants awarded to help pay for costs,” said John Tallmadge, director of regional services development for Triangle Transit. “We were trying to identify a funding source that would help take the pressure off the eastern Wake towns.”

The towns are still asked to pay for a third of the net operating costs of the service, according to Tallmadge, and Triangle Transit has asked towns if they can increase their pay portion over the last year.

That wasn’t an option for Zebulon, where the town’s spending plan for the current fiscal year included a reduced commitment of $12,500, down from $23,600 two years ago.

“The transit people asked for more than we gave them, but we gave them all that we could this year as we were facing a tight budget,” Zebulon Mayor Bob Matheny said. “From our perspective it was just what we had in our budget.”

Wendell’s commitment is about $14,000, Knightdale adds about 21,500, and Triangle Transit picks up the rest.

“We’ve been working with the towns over the last year to help them play the part they can play to provide the services,” Tallmadge said.

Tallmadge said the recent FTA grant is likely the last that will be awarded for the local bus service, due to a change in federal grant structuring. But he said riders need not worry.

“I don’t want any customers to think there’s a risk the service is going away any time soon,” Tallmadge said. “There’s a strong commitment to keep the service going. We have been pleased with the customer response to the service, and we’re going to find a way to keep that going and fund it.”

Other government grants may be an option, but Tallmadge said funding more of the service with local tax dollars may be a more sturdy course of action. He said the long-term direction is putting together a transportation plan for Wake County that meets all the communities’ needs.

“That’s what’s being discussed with Wake County commissioners; what are they doing with transit,” Tallmadge said. “It’s not clear what direction they’re going to go.”

The eastern Wake routes pick up commuters from park-and-ride lots in Knightdale, Wendell and Zebulon and make a stop at WakeMed on New Bern Avenue en route to downtown Raleigh.

Triangle Transit says the local routes boarded about 19 commuters per bus prior to the increase of service on the ZWX route. Ridership has yet to double in accordance with the extra service on the ZWX route, but Tallmadge said it normally takes time for the ridership to catch up to new routes.

Moody: 919-829-4806; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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