Featured photo: Clark Campbell Transportation Center is the central hub for the Winston-Salem Transit Authority. (photo by Gale Melcher)

For people who don’t own a car or have access to one, buses offer a crucial lifeline to jobs, education and grocery stores, as well as friends and family. According to a 2024 report by Forbes, around eight percent of American households do not own a car, and according to the American Public Transportation Association, 45 percent of Americans do not have any access to public transportation. Nationwide, people board public transportation 34 million times each weekday. 

The city of Winston-Salem hopes to bring better bus service to its residents. To do that, they’re parting ways with their current management company, Transdev, who they’ve partnered with since 2010. They’ll be switching to RATP Dev, the world’s third-largest public transportation operator, according to the company’s website.

Last year, the Winston-Salem Transit Authority clocked 1.5 million trips along 31 routes, while their fleet of 45 buses carries 5,000 passengers on weekdays. That’s a small dent in the city’s population of nearly 250,000

On May 6, city councilmembers will vote on whether to bring RATP Dev on board. The contract passed unanimously through two of the council’s committees on April 9, and if approved next month, RATP Dev will assume full operational responsibilities on Aug. 1, according to the city’s Transportation Director Jeffrey Fansler. The company would sign a five-year contract with the option to renew another two years. The contract could cost the city $218 million over the course of seven years. This year, WTSA’s operating costs are projected to total about $23 million.

The changes come less than a year after the Federal Transit Administration stepped in to let the city know that they weren’t complying with some of the FTA’s policies.

“We kinda got slapped on the wrist a little bit with how we’ve been doing business,” Fansler explained to city leaders on April 9. 

The FTA’s biggest issue was that the city hadn’t looked for a new management contractor in more than a decade. After finding that the city’s oversight and procurement was “not up to par,” the FTA required the city to issue a request for proposals for a new vendor. Fansler added that the partnership with their current vendor, Transdev, has proved to be a “heavy lift” with “high risk” for the city. The company, Fansler explained, only provides the city with a few things such as a general manager and training. All the other risks fall on the city, such as operating contracts, insurance and claims, payroll, fuel, facilities and bus procurement. This is why the city is moving from a management style contract to an operations style one. Due to their current model, the city has dozens of contracts that deal with WSTA service, from bus maintenance to pest control, including contracts with Flow Auto Center. 

“Just the staff time to facilitate that alone is tremendous,” said Fansler, adding that working with a company like RATP Dev “shifts a lot of responsibility” over to them.

Past and future of transit in Winston-Salem

Ibrahima Toure started out as a bus driver more than 20 years ago. Today, he’s RATP Dev’s chief development officer.

RATP Dev will come with some new software, Toure explained to city leaders on April 9.

They’ll work on improving bus tracking so passengers can see where their rides are, plus they’ll install LYTX DriveCam to monitor drivers’ behavior.

East Ward Councilmember Annette Scippio remembers the Safe Bus Company, a transportation company that started in 1926 to serve Black residents during segregation. 

Safe Bus Company, which carried around 8,000 passengers daily, was bought by WSTA in 1972. “It’s a wonderful legacy to inherit,” Scippio told Toure.

RATP Dev has worked with other cities across North Carolina such as Durham, Raleigh and Asheville to transition from a management contract to an operations one. Now, leaders in Winston-Salem hope that this change will allow them to focus on increasing ridership. According to city data, ridership dropped from nearly 3 million per year in 2019 to around 1.7 million in 2023.

Using RATP Dev will allow the city to “spend some time developing where our system should be going and not just how to keep the system on the street,” Fansler said.

“When you run a safe, reliable service, your customers will come,” Toure noted.

The company will need to rehire and onboard employees such as bus drivers. Still, their goal is to “retain as many employees as possible,” said Toure. “We really believe in taking care of our employees. Without the employees, we are not gonna be able to do this.”

All CityBeat reporting content is made possible by a grant from the NC Local News Lab Fund, available to republish for free by any news outlet who cares to use it. Learn More ↗

Republish this story 🞬

Republishing Content

All content created for the CityBeat— photos, illustrations and text — is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivatives 4.0 license (CCA-ND).

These republishing rules DO NOT apply to all of our content. The CityBeat is a nonprofit-funded position that specifically reports on city council business in Winston-Salem and Greensboro.

You are free to republish all content from the CityBeat under the following conditions:

  • Please copy and paste an html tracking code into articles you post online, allowing us to access analytics on our work.
    It can be dropped onto the page right beneath the copyable content, available below.

    If your site is using Google Analytics already:

        gtag('config', 'UA-49884744-1');
        gtag('event', 'page_view', {
            page_title: 'After being ‘slapped on the wrist,’ the city of Winston-Salem is looking to change how its bus service is managed',
            page_location: 'https://triad-city-beat.com/wsta-changing-bus-operator/',
            send_to: 'UA-49884744-1'

    If your site is not using Google Analytics:

    <script async src="https://www.googletagmanager.com/gtag/js?id=UA-49884744-1"></script>
        window.dataLayer = window.dataLayer || [];
        function gtag(){dataLayer.push(arguments);}
        gtag('js', new Date());
        gtag('config', 'UA-49884744-1');
        gtag('event', 'page_view', {
            page_title: 'After being ‘slapped on the wrist,’ the city of Winston-Salem is looking to change how its bus service is managed',
            page_location: 'https://triad-city-beat.com/wsta-changing-bus-operator/',
            send_to: 'UA-49884744-1'

  • Please use our bylines with attribution to Triad City Beat with a live link to our website: "by Gale Melcher/Triad City Beat"
  • At the bottom of the article (print or web) please include this text (links may be hyperlinked online):

    "Triad City Beat is an independent, for-profit news source serving the cities of the NC Piedmont Triad in Guilford and Forsyth counties, online at triad-city-beat.com.
    CityBeat content is funded by a grant from the NC Local News Lab Fund, online at nclocalnews.org."

  • If you have any questions, please contact Brian Clarey at [email protected]

Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.

We believe that reporting can save the world.

The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.

All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.

⚡ Join The Society ⚡