Council okays level funding for transit

Pulaski Area Transit BusBy MIKE WILLIAMS

The Patriot

On a close 3-2 vote Tuesday, Pulaski Town Council indicated its support and intention to include in the town’s next fiscal year budget $70,000 in funding as requested by Pulaski Area Transit.

Councilmen Brooks Dawson, Jamie Radcliffe and Michael Reis voted for the funding, while Councilmen Greg East and Jeremy Clark voted against. Councilman Tyler Clontz was absent.

The vote ended a lengthy discussion on the transit, which – like all transit operations in Virginia – is trying to recover lost ridership following the COVID pandemic.

Transit Manager Monica Musick made the request for level funding from the town after explaining that a $60,000 budget deficit PAT ended its year with in 2022 had been wiped out by additional funding from the state Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT). Musick said the department used some leftover CARES Act funds to eliminate the PAT’s budget shortfall without any local match from Pulaski or Pulaski County, which both fund the transit along with state and federal funds.

Prior to making the level funding request, Musick gave an overview of how the transit – with the help of DRPT – has reached out to the public in an attempt to rebuild ridership post-COVID.

The outreach – dubbed Rediscover Transit – includes newspaper articles and ads, radio ads, social media posts, flyers and informational booths.

As in past discussions on transit funding, Councilman East again brought up the rising cost of the transit service in the face of declining ridership. A cost he said works out to about $28 per rider trip.

“When you do the math on this, even at roughly 2,000 riders per month – 24,000 per year – you’re looking at $28 for every person or every trip, whether it’s the same person or not,” East said.

East wondered if state DRPT officials were concerned with the high cost per trip. Musick said she had not heard DRPT address that issue.

East said the $70,000 contribution by the town represents a lot of money that is “in the interest of very few people.”

East praised the outreach effort to try and attract more riders, but noted, “the fact of the matter is if you have a service that’s just not being used, maybe that service needs to be re-thought.”

He added he is really interested in the “micro” transit program with door-to-door service that Musick had described before.

“Seems to me that would be far more useful at $28 a pop if an elderly person could call and you go to the door and pick them up,” he said.

According to DRPT, Micro-transit is a service delivery model for rural on-demand transit service. The micro-transit technology allows customers to book trips on demand or in advance via an app or call-in number. It also allows efficient real-time routing, trip sharing, mobile payment and flexible scheduling within a defined service zone.