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Residents, students stand with city of Gainesville as UF proposes major reduction in RTS funding

Two dueling narratives took center stage this week surrounding the University of Florida's plan to reduce funding for Gainesville's Regional Transit System.

UF says it wants data transparency surrounding RTS numbers and why students pay extra to ride, while the city says these cuts will force the elimination and reduction of vital routes for students and residents.

On Thursday, students, residents and RTS staff attended a special city commission meeting to show support for the city as it faces the possibility of reducing or eliminating 22 bus routes.

Students and locals pack the city commission meeting to have their voices heard about the RTS funding cuts.
(Aileyahu Shanes/WUFT News)
Students and locals pack the city commission meeting to have their voices heard about the RTS funding cuts.

Nathaniel Pelton, 20, a UF political science student and off-campus UF student government senator, said he came to represent the voices of his constituents.

“They are appalled that the university would take an action, or even propose an attempt, to cut the funding for the regional transit system," Pelton said.

UF students enter the city commission meeting grabbing agenda packets.
(Aileyahu Shanes/WUFT News)
UF students enter the city commission meeting grabbing agenda packets.

But UF says this is all a misunderstanding.

UF spokesperson Steve Orlando said the university did not publicly announce the proposal, and negotiations are still ongoing.

In a letter to Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward on Thursday, Dave Kratzer, senior vice president of construction, facilities and auxiliary at the University of Florida, said UF is still open to negotiations but wants to understand why non-UF rider fees are $1.50 per ride while the average student fee is $2.86 per ride. This number comes from UF’s campus transit study. Students pay a transportation fee of $9.44 per credit hour.

Kratzer said he wants the city to provide more transparency on the RTS data.

“We have a foundational responsibility to carefully steward our students’ fees,” Kratzer wrote, “This means that the university and our partners owe students and their families transparent and reliable data.”

But city staff say UF can easily access the data it wants.

“There is a lot of data [publicly] available,” said Cynthia Curry, Gainesville's city manager.

She said the city has provided UF with everything it has requested.

“If they are requesting more data,” Curry said, “if we have it, they can have it.”

But Ward said the city is undercharging UF for bus services, as UF students make up 68% of ridership.

“If anyone tries to say, ‘Why is this [rate at the fare box] more, why is this less?,’” Ward said, “That is kind of a red herring.”

The city of Gainesville announced Tuesday that the University of Florida plans to reduce the funding it gives Gainesville’s Regional Transit System. The current contract expires June 30.

According to the city, RTS’ 2024 fiscal year budget is about $28.6 million. UF pays 49.2% of that budget, or about $14.05 million. UF’s proposal for the new contract would be a $6.84 million annual contribution toward RTS, which is a reduction of about 50.1%.

“We really need to put more [funding] into it,” said Jesus Gomez, RTS transit director. “We need a dedicated funding source for RTS to actually accomplish the vision we have for it.”

And he said this potential loss of funding is exacerbated by the compounding financial issues the city of Gainsville faces, like its Gainesville Regional Utilities revenue in limbo.

“It also decreases the level of funding we get from local, state and federal funds,” Gomez said. “We don’t know the exact impact. It’s not only [because of] the UF agreement. It could be even worse.”

If UF’s proposal comes to fruition, the city estimates it will need to eliminate 11 of its 39 routes as of July 1 and reduce service on another 11 routes. Included in the routes proposed for elimination would be all five dedicated UF-on-campus routes: 118, 122, 125, 126 and 127.

The routes that would potentially undergo reduced service include routes 1, 5, 8, 9, 12, 16, 20, 21, 33, 35 and 38.

“Even though I live on campus, I’d have to walk 30 minutes to get to my classes without RTS,” said Lily Kalandjian, 21, a senior political science student at UF and one of the 29 to participate in public comment at Thursday’s special city commission meeting.

She said she lives on campus because she does not have the funds to afford her own car.

“Although I’m on my way out, my sister recently committed to come to the University of Florida,” Kalandjian said. “I’m not even excited for her to come here because of this proposal.”

Harrison Scoville, 37, who serves on the RTS Advisory Board, said he relies on Route 8 every day because he uses an electric wheelchair.

“I worry about people like me,” he said, “who don’t have a choice and have to rely on the bus system to get to doctor’s appointments and their job.”

Scoville said he already waits about an hour for his bus to show up every day.

According to Ward, the potential decrease in funding would not only affect RTS riders, but also those who have their own automobiles to get around. Initial traffic reports by the city suggest 8,500 to 9,000 new personal automobiles will use Gainesville roads if these routes are cut.

A bus stop on Southeast Third Street near downtown Gainesville.
(Aileyahu Shanes/WUFT News)
A bus stop on Southeast Third Street near downtown Gainesville.

“If a bus full of students can’t ride the bus to campus or across campus, they’re not going to stop coming to campus,” Ward said. “They’re going to drive cars.”

Ward said this could primarily affect roads close to UF.

But Ward said he is not concerned. He said he believes the University of Florida cares about the community around it and understands the value RTS brings to its students.

“We will find a way to make this happen,” Ward said.

He said he is hopeful this proposal is just the beginning of a negotiation, and that they will come to an agreement that will not hurt RTS because of the overwhelming support from UF’s student population.

“I’m enlightened,” said Zefnia Durham III, president of the Gainesville chapter of the Amalgamated Transit Union. “Because when I came in, I saw the students here being a voice for the voiceless. And with this type of action, there is nothing we can’t accomplish at this particular time.”

Aileyahu is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing