Council delays decision on Burlington public transportation system

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BURLINGTON, N.C. -- At its meeting at the end of January, the Burlington City Council again delayed making any decisive action about bringing a public transportation system to the city.

The proposal before the City Council proposes a vehicle tax to pay for the public bus system. It would charge each Burlington resident five dollars annually for each car he or she owns.

Ian Baltutis, of Burlington, said he would not use the bus himself, but he still supports public transportation and the vehicle tax.

"This is a system that's been on the table since 2006," he said. "It's been talked about time and time again. So it's important that our city move forward. We are the largest municipality in North Carolina without a transit system right now."
At OE Enterprises, a nonprofit in Burlington that helps disabled people find jobs, Community Employment Team Coordinator Tommy Hill strongly supports the public transportation system proposal.

"Probably the biggest barrier that we have is transportation," he said. "Most of our people that we work with do not have any transportation.”

Hill said that, on multiple occasions, he has found jobs for disabled Burlington residents but they have had to decline the job offers because they had no way to get there. He said that there are already many obstacles for the people OE Enterprises serve and transportation should not be one of them.

"With the new transportation system, we hope that would be one less problem that they would be dealing with," Hill said.

Stephen Smith, also of Burlington, said he would be a major beneficiary if the city adopted a public transportation plan.

"I don’t have a car, but I do have a job," he said. "And it would make it infinitely easier if I were able to get to and from my job at a low cost to me that would be safe and secure."

Elon University currently has a bus system that is open to the community, free of charge. A university official said 59 percent of the buses' riders in 2013-2014 were individuals from the community and were not affiliated with the university.

Supporters said that demonstrates that there is a need for a public bus system that's more widely accessible and has longer routes.

Opponents to the bus system worry that there is not enough interest, and that the plan will ultimately end up costing the city money. Some also expressed concern that the $5 vehicle tax was unfair.

City Council plans to discuss the vehicle tax further in its March 2 work session.