RALEIGH — In nearly all North Carolina communities with bus systems, ridership is significantly lower than it was just a few years ago. In Greensboro, for example, there were 1.9 million passenger trips on city buses last year, down approximately 60% from the total in 2014. Over the same period, Winston-Salem buses experienced a comparable drop-off. In Charlotte, it was a staggering 75%.

It’s not just our largest cities where buses are running well below capacity. Salisbury, Gastonia, Rocky Mount, Wilson — all have seen ridership declines, ranging from moderate to massive.

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John Hood is a John Locke Foundation board member.

(3) comments


As a resident of Watauga County, I, too, have often wondered about those city buses. Mostly, I’ve wondered how to get to one so I could ride on it. (I live out in the county, am retired, and share an automobile with my husband.) Sometimes I see people walking the curvy, mountainous mile that separates me from the nearest Appalcart stop, but I haven’t been brave enough to try it myself: no shoulder on the road.

If you are seeing a “relatively small number of people who can’t drive for economic or medical reasons”, every time I see people get on city buses, I think about how they are making a smart economic choice. I started working when I was 12 (baby-sitting was my first job), but I didn’t have a car until I had graduated from college and was making enough money to afford one, at age 22. Living in the south as I did, in places that had limited or no public transportation, that meant that for the first ten years of my working life, either someone picked me up in a car or else I walked or rode a bicycle to my employment. I also think about this: I’m glad all those young people are not adding even more vehicles to the roads I drive on, and I wonder how many automobile accidents are not happening as a result. Emergency services cost taxpayers a lot of money. I’m at the other end of the age spectrum, 71 years old, and also wondering how much longer I can safely drive before I’ll be one of those drivers who costs taxpayers money because I get in an accident. The insurance companies know that inexperienced and elderly drivers are higher-risk drivers.

As for public assistance, public transit can also be the reason – the one differentiating reason – that keeps people from needing public assistance. Did you know that car trouble is one of the top reasons people in North Carolina end up homeless?

I’m a conservative, too. With only one person in most of those cars that clog the main streets in Boone, and with all the taxes I’ve paid over the decades to support our automobile lifestyle, I’d say there’s got to be a better way. Yes, change is painful, and the columns of numbers sometimes don’t add up in the neat way we’d like. But it seems like a move in the right direction, both for the climate and for their pocketbooks, that so many younger people are finding other ways to get around and no longer think they must depend on an automobile. I’m proud of the boost that Boone gives to its citizens with support of the Appalcart, and I hope that one day, I will be able to walk to a nearby bus stop, too.


The light rail system’s popularity in Charlotte actually exceeded expectations by 50% after a 2018 expansion. Trains, street cars, bicycles, and electric scooters are all parts of the same larger public transport picture. According to the CEO of Charlotte’s CATS transit system, the biggest challenge is having to “get creative to cobble together the necessary funding” to provide adequate transportation.

Contrary to Hood’s sunny narrative of upwardly mobile folks who can’t wait to leave the urban centers, “as rents in the city center increase, many families have been forced to the outskirts of Charlotte, where few public transportation options currently exist.” Suburban infrastructure is being subsidized by the high property values in urban centers, while low income families are exiled to job and transportation deserts.

Cars didn’t naturally rise to a position of supremacy through some evolutionary means. Decisions were made by government in concert with vehicle manufacturers, developers, and city planners. We built the infrastructure for cars with public money and left private companies to profit from it. We have equal power, right, and obligation to create new infrastructure for the 21st century that is more equitable, climate friendly, and convenient. We just need fiscal conservatives to get out of the way and allow the funding to flow.



Hear, hear!

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