Changes to Craven Area Rural Transit System funding could impact local service

The new Craven Area Rural Transit System (CARTS) building on Clarks Road.

The Craven Area Rural Transit System (CARTS) is facing an uncertain financial future due to changing population numbers and increased operation costs, among other factors.

According to information presented by Transportation Director Kelly Walker-Cuthrell at the Board of Commissioners October 16 work session, the financial environment for CARTS is changing due to increased operational expenses such as fuel costs and part-time driver pay, de-urbanization of the New Bern area based on the 2020 Census data, CARES Act funds being exhausted and questions regarding future funding through the NC Department of Transportation. 

Walker-Cuthrell explained that CARTS currently has three main funding streams for daily operations: the 5311 Community Transportation Program (CTP), the Rural Operating Assistance Program (ROAP) and the 5307 Urban Area Formula Program.

Walker-Cuthrell reported that with the federal fiscal year beginning October 1, 2023, CARTS funding will be based on new census data that indicated a loss of population in Craven County. Since the census indicated that the New Bern area does not have a population of at least 50,000 people, it can no longer be considered an urban area for funding purposes. She emphasized that the NCDOT has not been able to identify to CARTS what funding changes will occur due to the new census numbers.

Because CARTS has unused 5307 urban funding, the NCDOT is requiring CARTS to use that money until it is exhausted or lapsed before changes will be made to rural funding, she explained.

Walker-Cuthrell stated that at the beginning of fiscal year 2024-25, CARTS will no longer be able to generate enough revenue to cover expenses, as Rural CARES Act funding ended June 30, 2023 and funding from both the Urban CARES Act and The American Rescue Plan will end around June 30, 2024. 

Assistant County Manager Gene Hodges presented the Board with information illustrating four different service options and the budget deficit associated with each.

While options A and B would continue the CARTS Omnibus fixed route loop, options C and D would do away with the Omnibus. Both options B and D show an increase in the shared cost per revenue mile rate of 10%. 

-Option A – No Changes: FY2024 Adopted Budget-$0, FY2025 Projected-$225,000-$250,000; FY2026 projected-$225,000-$250,000; FY2027 Projected-$225,000-$250,000

-Option B – Increase Shared Revenue Mile 10%: FY2025 Projected-$225,000-$250,000; FY2026 projected-$200,000-$225,000; FY2027 Projected-$225,000-$250,000 

-Option C – No Omnibus: FY2025 Projected-$100,000-$125,000; FY2026 projected-$125,000-$150,000; FY2027 Projected-$125,000-$150,000 

-Option D – No Omnibus; Increase Shared Revenue Mile 10%: FY2025 Projected-$100,000-$125,000; FY2026 projected-$100,000-$125,000; FY2027 Projected-$100,000-$125,000 

County Manager Jack Veit said the issue would come back before the Board in February or March in order to reach a consensus on the issue prior to the county’s 2024 budget season.

Craven County CARTS serves Craven, Jones and Pamlico counties. Transportation services are open to the general public for shopping, bill paying, going to and from work, and other trips.

Transportation for the elderly and disabled is available with no fare for life necessity trips such as medical and other health-related visits.

In December 2021 CARTS replaced its Red and Yellow Loops with the new Omnibus system. The Omnibus offers more locations and expanded operating times through its Blue Route (for medical services), Orange Route (for education and recreation) and Green Route (for employment and retail).

In July, the county opened a new $1.8 million CARTS facility at 1106 Clarks Road across from the Craven County Judicial Center. The facility houses the county’s CARTS administration, which was formerly located on Neuse Boulevard and provides space for the CARTS buses that were parked in front of the Craven County Department of Social Services offices.

By Todd Wetherington, co-editor. Send an email with questions or comments.

Related article: Craven CARTS to open new facility next week, will make way for DSS expansion