Gainesville bus routes could be cut if city and UF don’t reach agreement - 352 Today (2024)

GAINESVILLE, FL ( – The City of Gainesville says it will have to cut several bus routes if it can’t reach an agreement with the University of Florida (UF).

The city says the university plans to dramatically scale back the amount of money it contributes to the Regional Transit System (RTS) for a prepaid bus fare program. The news comes just as the city is about to mark the 50th anniversary of RTS.

On Tuesday, Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward held a news conference stating UF plans to slash its RTS funding by 50% from $13.7 million annually to $6.8 million a year starting July 1.

Ward says UF notified the city on March 6that it plans to let the current RTS contract which provides unlimited bus service for students, faculty and staff expire and proposed a month-to-month agreement instead as the university explores other transportation options.

The mayor says the cut in funding means the city would be forced to eliminate a number of bus routes on and off campus.

“That is not a sustainable action for the system. We will not be able to offer the level of service that our community is used to,” Ward told reporters. “This won’t just effect University of Florida students, although they will be the primary folks effected by this, it will also obviously affect faculty and staff at the University of Florida, but it will disproportionately effect the remainder of the system as well.”

Ward said 68% of the ridership comes from the university yet UF’s financial contribution currently only comprises 48% of the budget.

Gainesville bus routes could be cut if city and UF don’t reach agreement - 352 Today (1)

The city said ridership volume that comes from the university is necessary for federal funding and matching grants in support of transit-related projects within the community.

“If this change goes through, its ripple effects will be felt throughout our community for years to come,” said Gainesville Transportation Director Jesus Gomez. “RTS would take buses off the road. Without the UF riders and grant funding, there would be no choice but to cut routes. For people who take the bus to work or close, or the doctor or grocery store, that’s a major life change.”

Gainesville City Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut described the proposed change as drastic.

“As a mother, I would find great comfort in knowing that my son, my daughter could jump on a bus anywhere in Gainesville and get from that destination to where they were going back to campus. A parent can feel very safe that their child can do this in this city,” said Chestnut. “We must, we must not allow this. This is a clarion call to students. This is a clarion call to our citizens. This is a clarion call to every parent across Florida with a child here at the University of Florida. Come to their rescue,” stated Chestnut.

“Since 1998, this partnership has been woven into the life of our community,” said Ward. “It is a shining example of a strong, working town-gown collaboration. It’s good for the environment, it reduces traffic congestion, and it has become an integral part of the way UF students come to learn about and love the City of Gainesville.”

Ward says he hopes the city and university can work something out and continue their partnership.

“I believe we’re going to get to a place where we make the system whole and even more efficient and reliable than it has been for the past 50 years. That’s my goal here and I believe we can get to that place with our partners at the University of Florida,” said the mayor. “Everyone in this discussion is part of the same community. University of Florida staff, students and faculty are part of Gainesville. So are the people whose jobs and businesses rely on the university, and so are the neighbors who ride the bus to work and the people who use RTS to get to UF Health hospitals and clinics for treatment or preventive care. We’re all in this together and I’m confident we’ll find a solution.”

“There seems to be a major misunderstanding on the city’s part,” said Steve Orlando, Associate Vice President for Communications for the University of Florida. “The University of Florida has made no announcements and believed that our good faith talks were ongoing. We were surprised to learn about this press conference, because we recently asked the city to give us transparent data on their operating costs. We’re still working in good faith. This is unfortunate, but we agree with the mayor that a good outcome is possible, and we hope they share their data and come back to constructive talks as partners. We’re committed to doing what’s right for our students and the community.”

The uncertainty about the bus system’s future comes just as the city plans to celebrate a half-century of service. The city sent out a notice on Friday, April 5, indicating a family-friendly event is planned for this Friday, April 12, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the RTS administration building located at 34 SE 13th Road in Gainesville.

Gainesville bus routes could be cut if city and UF don’t reach agreement - 352 Today (2024)
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