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Louisville's Public Transit Has Miles To Go, TARC Director Says

Barry Barker is not satisfied with the state of Louisville’s public transit.Barker has been the director of the Transit Authority of River City, or TARC, for 20 years. And despite a recent nod in a national transit study, noting TARC's ability to get people from place to place, Barker said their is still work to be done.“We could do better,” he said.  “And I think the people who live and work in Louisville want and need and deserve better.”Getting better—which means putting more, newer buses on the roadways and hitting stops more frequently—isn’t easy, he noted.Related: Louisville Ranks 36th In Accessibility to Jobs by Public Transit, Study SaysBarker said more resources are needed if TARC is to offer improved, expanded services.  If more funding doesn't arrive soon, the current services may be reduced “at a time when we need to be increasing services,” he said.“We really don’t have the money on hand to sustain the level of service we’ve got out there,” he said. “The needs of the greater Louisville community for public transportation are outstripping the resources that we have available."But there is no simple solution to increasing revenue, Barker said.He said he isn’t looking to raise fares, which account for about 15-17 percent of TARC’s annual budget of nearly $70 million.  He also said he doesn’t want to see a higher occupational tax, which was approved in 1974 and has remained unchanged.  The current .02 percent occupational tax fee accounts for a majority, about 60 percent, of TARC's budget, Barker said.Barker advocates for establishing a local option sales tax to help boost TARCs resources.  Mayor Greg Fischer has been a leading advocate of the local option sales tax,which was proposed in this year's legislative session but did not pass.“The local option sales tax would help us not only maintain the status quo but to make selected improvements,” Barker said.He added that additional state revenue, which currently accounts for just a fraction (about $200,000) of TARC's annual budget, should also be increased.  But boosting state revenue, much like boosting federal revenue for public transit, is a “continuing struggle,” Barker said.What Barker eventually wants to see is a public transit system in Louisville that meets the demands of the people who rely on the system to get to work, home and school.“My number one goal is responding to what the community wants and needs, which is increased service—and obviously that would result in increased ridership,” he said. He wants expanded services to Dixie Highway, in particular, which is an area where TARC riders are often left standing at bus stops due to buses traveling at capacity, Barker said.And “it’s hard to say” just how far away TARC is from meeting those community demands, Barker said.Despite Barker’s concerns, there are improvements being made in the TARC system.Just this year, 12 new buses have been put in use.  Those buses were paid for, in large part, by a federal grant, Barker said.  Additional federal funding is allowing TARC to put 25 new buses on the roads in coming years, he added.Each new bus has a price tag of about $375,000, Barker said.  Currently, TARC has about 300 vehicles on the road, running 41 routes in five counties, according to their website.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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