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    The Fayetteville Area System of Transit, or FAST, has been at the center of recent conversations by the Fayetteville City Council. On Monday, May 28, that conversation included many of the riders of the system, as local citizens packed the council room to oppose a proposed increase in rider fares. The council listened to their voices, voting against raising the fares, and instead committing to raising the per capita expenditure on the system to that of other systems in the state.
    The transit system has been under fire for quite some time due to its aging fleet, scheduling woes and customer service. Last fall the city received a report citing problems in the system, which included its lack of funding. Fayetteville’s system is funded at a little more than $9 per capita — half that of similar systems in the state.
    At the recent meeting, the council voted to raise the per capita spending over the next three years to bring it in line with the other systems in the state. The council additionally approved an additional $5 tax on all vehicles within the city limits, and voted to fund the system with an additional $100,000 in the upcoming budget year.
    Citizens on hand for the hearing on rate increases loudly applauded the move by the council as a step in the right direction. Prior to the action, the council heard a litany of complaints against the system. Speakers talked about the lateness of the buses, their poor upkeep and maintenance and the lack of improvements.
    The call for increased fares came as the new transit director, Ron Macaluso, sought to bring the system’s staff up {mosimage}to par. Macaluso presented a plan earlier this year to hire seven new positions, which he said would be key in getting the system on the right track. The positions included a training supervisor and dispatchers. Macaluso said that the current supervisory staff spends its time dispatching, so they cannot be out on the road checking on routes. The proposed hiring actions resulted in an increase of more than $400,000. To meet that increase, Macaluso recommended the rate hikes and the tax increase on personal vehicles.
    When questioned whether the hiring of the new positions would result in immediate improvements to the system, Macaluso noted that the changes would not be immediate. The council, nor the audience, was comfortable with that answer. Macaluso said the addition of five new buses this fall would, in itself, create an improvement in the system because they would be clean and would not have the maintenance problems of the older buses. He argued that the hiring of the new staff was the building block for improvements within the system.
    Councilmen Robert Massey, D.J. Haire and Charles Evans were firm in their belief that more improvements had to come quickly. To ensure those changes, Mayor Tony Chavonne pushed the council to make the commitment to up the per capita spending and to form a Blue Ribbon Commission to study the issues and make recommendations to improve the system.

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