County commissioners should pony-up for PART

by Jim Longworth

The irony of headlines from May 12 is inescapable. First there was the front page of the News & Record which proclaimed that the Triad ranks 74 th out of 100 metro areas in access to public buses. Then, on that same day, the Winston Salem Journal’s top story was about how PART had to back off from asking for a vehicle registration fee to maintain services, because a majority of county commissioners from throughout the Piedmont don’t understand the correlation between transit and economic development. These are the same elected officials who will spend millions of taxpayer dollars to recruit a new industry, but then contribute nothing to make sure our workforce has access to the jobs being created by that industry.

Last month the PART board, which includes a commissioner from each county, voted to ask the 10-member counties to support a $3 per vehicle registration fee that would be used to sustain their regional bus service. But by last week, the plan had been scrapped after PART board members learned that their fellow commissioners back home wouldn’t go along with a referendum to collect the fees. Here are some facts that those timid commissioners and many uneducated taxpayers don’t seem to understand:

1. PART stimulates the economy

PART riders will save about $3 million this year on gasoline. In turn, the money that PART riders save will remain in the local economy until it is spent two or three times. Each time it is spent, tax revenues will be generated, which then support other programs or possibly reduce the local tax rate. All of this means that PART yields a return on investment. In fact, nationwide, it is estimated that every tax dollar spent on public transportation returns up to nine dollars in economic activity.

2. PART saves lives

PART riders make the roads safer for all of us. According to data supplied by Executive Director Brent McKinney, last year, PART passengers drove 13 million fewer miles by not using their cars. Since drivers in the Triad average 2.4 accidents every million miles of travel, that means 31 accidents were prevented in the Winston-Salem, Greensboro, High Point area alone.

3. PART creates jobs

PART creates about 85 jobs in the private sector through its contracts for the PART Express bus. The service is provided by American Charters based in Winston-Salem. PART also helps to recruit new industry to the region. Companies looking to relocate to the Piedmont want to know about the availability of a quality workforce, and whether that workforce has access to public transportation.

4. PART reduces our dependence on foreign oil

A study by the Brookings Institution showed that public transportation uses about half of the fuel that is required by cars and trucks. PART keeps hundreds of vehicles off the roads; that means lessening our dependence on foreign oil and not having to wage wars overseas to protect that oil. The Iraq war alone has cost taxpayers over $3 trillion, and that is money we could have spent on education and low cost healthcare.

5. PART gets people to work

PART riders help drive our economy. Over 90 percent of them are employed and depend on the PART bus to get them to work, where they make products and provide services that we all rely upon. For example, a number of PART riders are nurses and healthcare workers at area hospitals. Mark Bachmeier, of WFU Baptist Medical Center told the Winston- Salem Journal, “The idea of losing some of that capacity ([bus service] is concerning to us for sure.”

Now that the vehicle registration fee is off the table, PART’s board is asking member counties to pay a direct subsidy to help sustain bus service throughout the region. Contributions would range from $46,000 in Yadkin to $394,000 in Guilford. Meanwhile PART is looking to raise fares to help make up budget deficits. Both solutions are sound, and county commissioners should step up to the plate.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I admit that PART helps to underwrite educational segments on my “Triad Today” TV show. But PART also advertises on other TV stations, as well as in local newspapers, therefore, my opinions aren’t any less valid than, say, those of the editorial staffs of the WSJ or the N&R. The point is that PART provides a vital service which is keeping people employed, stimulating our economy and saving lives. It’s time that our elected officials recognize and support those contributions.

One way or another, we all share in the benefits of a PART ride. Now we all need to get on board and share the costs as well.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).