Justin Hoyle has taken the 88X CATS bus to Charlotte since the day the service started.
Because of a medical condition, Hoyle, 27, can't obtain a driver's license.
Now he's unsure how he'll get uptown, once the Lincoln County Express bus is discontinued June 30.
The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners voted March 15 against paying the $50,804 that CATS wants to renew the 88X service for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
That figure represents an 18.6percent increase, or $7,969 more, County Manager George Wood said in a March 8 memo to the board.
"While having a commuter transit line available is a positive, I am not convinced that it merits a $50,804 annual taxpayer subsidy to benefit the equivalent of 43 daily commuters," Wood wrote. "That is particularly true in the third year of a deep recession, when county revenues have been reduced while costs have increased."
The Charlotte Area Transit System has a 50-50 funding deal with each outlying municipality where it runs buses, so without Lincoln's support, 88X will end, CATS spokeswoman Jean Leier said.
The Mooresville Board of Commissioners faces a similar decision April 12, when it is scheduled to vote on spending $25,207.50 to renew the three 83X Mooresville Express buses until Dec. 31.
Commissioner Mitch Abraham said the town is subsidizing each of the average 63 daily riders at least $1,300 per year, but renewing the contract is important to regional air quality and cooperation on mass transit.
"There's a whole bigger picture," Abraham told fellow commissioners at their pre-agenda meeting Thursday. The town's message to CATS and the Metropolitan Transit Commission should be, "We're sticking with you in hard times, while Lincoln County (and) other places, let you go."
Lincoln County Manager Wood presented four options to his commissioners: Pay the increased amount; pay the same amount, provided that CATS increases the fare; further reduce service; or decline to renew the contract. He favored declining to renew.
"One of the arguments for transit is that it reduces emissions that lead to nonattainment of the (federal Environmental Protection Agency's) air quality standards for ozone," Wood said in his memo. "...The question, then, is what impact will 43 more commuters per day in personal vehicles have on this region's air quality?
"The impact is inconsequential," he said.
Lincoln County commissioner George Arena of Denver said the county's new subsidy would amount to about $1,000 per rider and that CATS had already affected ridership by making 5:15 p.m. the last time of the day an 88X leaves uptown.
He said several riders he's spoken with are willing to pay higher fares, but that CATS wasn't willing to go along because it said it would then have to impose the increase across the system. Arena said commissioners are still open to alternatives from CATS.
Commissioners' Chairman Alex Patton and commissioners Bruce Carlton and James Klein, both of whom are from East Lincoln, couldn't be reached last week.
Seven 88X riders called me to express disappointment in the ending of the route.
Public transit helps the environment by keeping more cars off the road, they said.
Riding the bus means they don't have to pay for gasoline and uptown parking fees that strain their family budgets, they said.
"I'm extremely disappointed," said Lolita Gaines, an executive assistant who catches the bus in Charlotte's Coulwood section.
Gaines said she was "hooked from the first day" on the 88X, which she's taken since it began about four years ago.
"I have an SUV," she said. "I just couldn't afford the gas and the parking."
Hoyle needs the bus to get to Central Piedmont Community College, where he is pursuing a degree in office systems technology.
Shad Spencer rides the 88X to his job with the Charlotte Planning Department. "It's a lot less stressful than driving," he said. "You save some money, and it reduces pollution."
Hoyle said several passengers have discussed forming carpools to the 77X bus stop in Huntersville, or arranging a CATS van pool.
Riders can fill out a form to join a van pool at www.charmeck.nc.us/Departments/CATS .