BOONE — At the May 26 AppalCART Board of Trustees meeting, board members voted to adopt the company’s proposed budget for FY2020-2021, which totals $4,903,650, a nearly a 1 percent increase from the previous year’s budget, or $44,212.
Transportation Director Craig Hughes said that the slight increase is related to “inflationary cost,” which included a “10 percent increase in health insurance costs” for the company’s employees.
Hughes said that no established routes have been removed for the coming year, adding that the company is “planning to run the Purple Route until 10 p.m. on weekdays instead of until 8 p.m.”
Before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, AppalCART was averaging about 12,500 round trips per day, across all routes, from Monday to Thursday and about 10,000 trips on Friday, “which brought the weekly average down.”
“Ridership has greatly decreased since the pandemic began,” Hughes said. “Ridership currently is about 450 trips per day. It was down to about 390 per day, or 1,950 per week. We anticipate ridership growing as passengers feel more comfortable getting out and going places.”
The biggest expenses that AppalCART faces each year are driver salaries and fuel, Hughes noted. Labor costs, including apprenticeships, make up more than $2 million of the FY2020-2021 AppalCART budget, while fuel costs are allotted $608,934.
“In FY2019-2020, the total hours worked was 135,896,” he said. “FY2020-2021 would have been even higher, if not for the COVID-19 event, since the Night Owl routes were added this year, along with additional weekend service,” he said.
Hughes said that AppalCART received no requests from the public to discuss the budget with the board before its adoption on May 26.
The Blowing Rock Town Council on May 21 discussed the feasibility of contracting with AppalCART for the town’s annual summer shuttle service, which the town ultimately decided to cancel for summer 2020. The town opted to cancel the shuttle due to the projected annual revenue loss of 40 percent, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Town Manager Shane Fox.