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Editorial: Easing into public transit

Necessity may be the mother of cooperation when it comes to public transit in Rowan County. City and county officials appear to be pulling together to improve public transportation options for area citizens. That’s good government.
Salisbury City Council is set to sign an interlocal agreement today with the county, China Grove, Landis and Kannapolis that will link bus systems in Salisbury and Concord and could eventually connect with Charlotte. With gasoline prices putting private transportation even further out of reach for many people, this Rowan Express system should keep area residents moving.
The system may help improve local air quality, too. The federal government identifies this region as a “non-attainment area” for failing to meet clean air standards. One effect of that designation is the stick of reduced highway funds. But there’s also a carrot to spur us on toward a solution ó funding from the federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Improvement Program.
Already that program makes it possible for bus riders to hop aboard for free (instead of the usual 50 cents or $1) on days when ozone levels are high. Helping the system link to more destinations through Rowan Express could be another boon for clean air.
More than $1 million in city, state and federal funds go into operating the Salisbury bus system annually. For years, taxpayers complained about seeing empty city buses make the rounds, but citizens are taking greater advantage of the service. In 2006-2007, Salisbury Transit saw its ridership increase 4.58 percent to 144,978 riders. So far this fiscal year, it appears to be headed further upward by about 7 percent.
Four years ago, Concord and Kannapolis joined forces to link their cities with a new bus service called Rider. Linking Rider and Salisbury transit is a natural.
Saving on gas is strong incentive. In early 2007 ó when gasoline was less expensive than it is now ó the American Public Transportation Association estimated that public transportation saves 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline each year and can reduce household expenses by $6,200.
That’s a big chunk of money. The trade-off is the extra time it takes to get where you’re going, as opposed to driving independently. But for many people, the alternative to taking the bus is staying home, not driving their own car. The bus system improves their quality of life by helping them get to work, shop in stores, visit doctors and so on instead of being stranded.
Now those advantages will spread further. The county has a system of vans operating as Rowan Transit and RITA that residents can use by appointment. Rowan Express eases the county a little further into the public transportation business by setting up fixed routes to a variety of destinations ó a smart step forward. Let’s hope all the towns involved and the county can work out the details and get Rowan Express on the road this October, as planned. The price of gasoline is changing people’s driving habits ó and maybe their willingness to use public transportation, too.

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