Gainesville leaders meet to continue contract negotiations with UF

Published on April 22, 2024


Gainesville City Manager Cynthia W. Curry and a contingent of city leaders are meeting with top administrators at the University of Florida (UF) this morning. The two sides will continue good faith negotiations in the wake of a UF proposal that would lower the university’s total annual financial contribution to the city’s Regional Transit System (RTS) from this year’s budgeted $13.7 million to $6.8 million.

The 50-percent reduction in funding would mark a substantial shift in a working partnership that for 26 years has served both the City of Gainesville and UF’s students, faculty and staff. Since 1998, RTS has provided expanded transportation for the university community through UF’s prepaid bus fare program, a service funded by the transportation fee UF charges as part of student tuition.

UF Senior Vice President David Kratzer, in a recent letter to Gainesville Mayor Harvey L. Ward, has questioned whether UF is receiving fair value for those fees, noting that a one-way fare on an RTS bus costs $1.50 for nonstudent passengers while UF students pay $2.86. In response, the city shared transit operations data including historical and current totals for UF and non-UF related ridership and the cost allocation model used by RTS to determine the hourly cost of transit service.

Why does RTS currently charge non-UF riders a cash price of $1.50 per ride but charges UF students an average of $2.86 per ride?
While the University of Florida did not provide information concerning how the $2.86 per ride figure was calculated, city staff believes that UF took the contract amount paid so far this year and divided it by the number of UF passengers to date.

But this is not the way public transit systems operate, nor is it how a fare is determined. RTS calculates a fee by the service hour, not by individual passengers served. Additionally, using UF’s fare-based approach, the average cost per UF passenger (based on a 22-year average, including FY 2019, the last pre-COVID year) is $1.31 per ride.

Although ridership dropped during the pandemic (starting in FY 2020), it has rebounded since and continues to climb toward pre-pandemic levels. For the RTS-UF partnership, based on UF’s calculation, this means the cost per passenger for UF has steadily decreased since 2021 as more students, faculty and staff have resumed riding the bus.

What is the true cost of providing transit services for the University of Florida?
The University of Florida currently pays RTS $84 an hour to operate the buses and routes that support its campus, students, faculty and staff. UF’s $84 dollar an hour funding is a negotiated rate that offsets some of what it costs RTS to provide transportation from one place to another.

The capital expenses to provide this service—such as paying to buy or lease buses, construct and maintain buildings, and other fixed costs—are not contributed to by UF. Those costs are covered by the city with help from state and federal grants.

In FY 2024, the full cost of providing transit service—including those capital expenses—is $138.62 per hour. UF’s current negotiated per hour rate is approximately 40% below the current full cost of transit service.

How much has UF benefitted from not paying the full cost allocation for the duration of this 26-year partnership?
Of its total 39 routes, RTS has 20 routes that were created or expanded to serve UF students, faculty and staff. These include five on-campus routes. For all intents and purposes, these routes and their service frequency exist as a concierge bus service dedicated exclusively to the needs of the university.

Those buses, like all RTS buses, are retired after approximately 12 years in service. Over the duration of the 26-year RTS-UF partnership, the city has spent more than $60 million on bus replacement. Out of that total, UF contributed $3.5 million toward new buses in 2011.

Does UF benefit from any of the grant funding the high volume of student passengers is bringing into RTS?
The replacement of retired campus buses with new ones is paid for by funding provided through state and federal grants.

How does the partnership with UF help RTS obtain the millions of dollars in grant funding needed to continue serving the Gainesville community?
Ridership volume associated with the RTS-UF partnership is necessary to qualify for the state and federal funding and matching grants that support transit-related projects. With a significantly reduced contract expected to impact ridership levels, it is possible the city would quality for less grant funding. This would lead to elimination and cutbacks to routes, less buses in service, and less staff to operate the transit system.

“We are currently operating with 102 buses, an expanding fleet of electric buses, and 266 employees,” said City Manager Cynthia W. Curry. “The city’s public transit service supports a population of more than 200,000 residents. If we do not reach an agreement, and routes are impacted, it could alter the ability of RTS to serve the community for years to come.”

A change in the contract also could alter the experience of drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians in areas surrounding campus and along major thoroughfares. For more than two decades, the RTS-UF prepaid fare partnership has helped students get safely to their destinations and, by keeping additional cars off the road, has helped control the environmental, traffic and infrastructure impacts that would have been expected without a strong public transit system.

The Gainesville City Commission and city leaders are hopeful the ongoing negotiations will lead to a full contract renewal before the June 30 deadline, and that UF over the coming year will conduct research to analyze the traffic, safety and environmental impacts that could be expected citywide if major changes are made to the RTS-UF partnership.

Additional information has been published on the City of Gainesville website.