by Julie Tisdale
City & County Policy Analyst
I was glad to see the headline “CATS proposes fare hikes to cover expected operating costs” as I perused local news on the Charlotte Observer’s site this morning. There are two different proposed plans, but both of them would involve fare increases, and that’s as it should be.
CATS (Charlotte Area Transit System) receives huge amounts of money from taxpayers. According to their most recent annual report available online, they get $66.5 million in local sales tax revenue, $18.6 million in state maintenance of effort funds, $11.9 million in state maintenance assistance, and another $62.1 million in various state and federal grants. At a minimum that’s $159 million from taxpayers. I suspect there are some other bits of taxpayer funding included in the “other capital” and “miscellaneous” line items. Only $30.9 million is shown as “operating revenue” despite $105.8 million in operating expenses and $221.1 million in total expenses.
I know riders of CATS won’t be happy about paying more, but it’s right for CATS to be looking to it’s customers, those who actually use its services, to pay more of the costs. As is, taxpayers in the Charlotte area who never use the system at all are picking up a huge part of the tab. Taxpayers across all of North Carolina, and indeed the US, most of whom will never set foot on any CATS bus or train, are contributing through their tax dollars. Surely it can’t be fair for all of those individuals to pay for the system, rather than those who most directly benefit from CATS services. Instead, letting the user pay more of the cost is the right and fair approach to maintaining Charlotte’s transit system.