- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 15, 2016


June 12

The Charlotte Observer on mass transit:

If you don’t regularly ride one of the Charlotte Area Transit System’s 70-plus bus routes, its much-debated uptown streetcar or its oft-praised light rail line, you probably didn’t pay much attention to recent news reports about the system’s challenges.

You should.

That’s because those stories spelled out how CATS faces a $2.8 million budget shortfall. How it plans to help plug that hole by killing its 15 percent discount on 10-day bus passes. How system ridership is down 4.3 percent compared with the same period a year earlier - if you can trust ridership numbers gleaned from broken, 15-year-old fare boxes.

You should be paying attention because your sales taxes comprise nearly half of the transit system’s $120 million annual operating budget. And since Census data in late 2014 pegged Charlotte as the nation’s second-fastest growing big city, we risk choking on that growth if we fail to field a robust, high-functioning transit system.

CATS is facing stiff crosswinds at the moment. Low gas prices aren’t helping. And as highly-regarded as the Blue Line is, ridership in the hot South End district isn’t growing at nearly the same rate as the population there. Some residents instead prefer ride-sharing services like Uber, the Observer’s Steve Harrison recently reported.

On top of that, there’s the accelerating gentrification of center city neighborhoods. That’s pushing CATS’ core ridership - low-income blue collar workers - further out toward the suburbs, where bus routes cost more to operate.

CATS head John Lewis told the editorial board that he sees room to partner with ride-sharing services. And while the Blue Line and the Gold Line streetcar are “game changers,” he said, far more people ride CATS buses.

In coming months, he wants to sketch out a redesign of the city’s entire bus network.

That is welcome news. AllTransit, a transportation research group, recently ranked Charlotte’s transit system 26th out of 32 big cities. Another group, TransitCenter, says two thirds of Charlotte residents live within a half mile of a transit stop, but just 8 percent live near buses and trains that run frequently.

Yes, CATS needs to be more nimble and efficient. Using busted 15-year-old fare boxes? That’s no way to run a business.

But it’s also clear that we need to invest more in our transit infrastructure. CATS remains billions short on funding for its long-range transit plan. A panel of political and business leaders in 2013 recommended a sales tax increase, among other options. Little has happened.

Our transit system, like our roads, is struggling to keep pace with growth.

It’s going to take smarter management of existing resources, and a stronger political push for new ones, to catch up to Charlotte’s explosive growth.




June 15

The Fayetteville Observer on tax credits and the Prince Charles hotel:

It’s good news that state and federal tax credits have been approved for the overhaul of the Prince Charles hotel.

And not just for the project’s investors.

It’s good for the broader Fayetteville community because of what this $15 million project (at last estimate) could mean for the future of the city.

There’s nothing like tackling the biggest elephant in the room, head-on, and that’s what the investment group has done with the Prince Charles. The 1920s-era hotel faced the wrecking ball after its crumbling downfall under a previous owner, the latest installment in a long-running saga: Clean up the Prince Charles, raise hopes for what it can mean for Fayetteville, only to see it falter again until someone, somewhere, is willing to take up the cause again before it’s too late.

The Prince Charles property is central to our central business and cultural arts district. You could consider a teardown or a build-back on the site, under a new business plan, but you can only ignore the Hay Street landmark for so long.

That’s where the tax credits come in. Project developers report that the beleaguered eight-story building was in worse condition than they originally thought, so this is going to cost more money and take more time to complete. The plan is for the new Prince Charles to feature 62 affordable apartments to bring more residents downtown. And then …

Yes, with the Prince Charles there’s always a tantalizing “and then,” and that’s the case here again. And then, if all goes as planned, the developers and the city can get serious about mapping out plans for the roughly 10-acre tract surrounding the old hotel. From the often-vacant parking lot down toward often-desolate Festival Park, can you imagine the potential? Look at the proximity to the Airborne & Special Operations Museum, Veterans Park and the new corridor planned for Rowan Street, Murchison Road and Bragg Boulevard.

It’s the stuff of which civic-minded dreams are made.

It’s good for us to keep building on that vision, too, if we can make the numbers work. This project represents the hotel’s last, best hope for success. If the investors’ plan comes together as envisioned, we’ll be replacing a lonely old elephant with a lively new center stage for the future of Fayetteville.




June 13

The News & Observer of Raleigh on repealing HB2:

There are rumors going around the North Carolina General Assembly that some compromises, to be proposed by Democrats, may be coming forward on HB2, the ridiculous bill curbing the rights of transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity. HB2 requires them to go by the sex designated on their birth certificates.

But that is only part of HB2, which also prohibits localities from passing anti-discrimination laws of their own and tosses in a limit on minimum wages offered by local governments, along with forcing workers to sue in federal courts if they have an employment discrimination claim. It’s all the standard Republican anti-worker platform, with some angry provisions about the LGBT community thrown in.

Now, after the tragedy in Orlando, HB2 looks even more like a gratuitous, cruel slap at gays, lesbians and transgender people. It is all the more embarrassing to North Carolina than it was - and it was plenty embarrassing.

North Carolinians may tell themselves they are better than the Republican demagogues and the weak governor who is supposed to lead them. But the case is getting harder to make, particularly now that the state appears to be a symbol of oppression for gay, lesbian and transgender people. There must be no compromise, no tweaking. The law must be repealed. Period.



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