Frederick County seniors protest proposed bus service change -- Gazette.Net


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A group of Frederick residents has asked Frederick County TransIT officials to reconsider a proposed change to a bus route that would affect some senior citizens and the disabled.

The proposal is designed to make riding the bus more convenient for most riders, while eliminating stops along Fairview Avenue and Carroll Parkway. TransIT officials discussed the route changes and fare increases Monday at Winchester Hall, and will take public comments until Friday. County commissioners will vote on the changes June 21.

TransIT recommends stopping service along Fairview Avenue because of the scarcity of riders, director Sherry Burford said. The route changes recommended by TransIT will not increase operational costs.

Although offering shorter travel times might appeal to many regular customers and attract new ones, some in the Fairview area who ride to doctors appointments and the grocery said they will be out of options if they can’t take the bus. The next closest stop for them, at Safeway Grocery Store on Seventh Street, is too far away, they said.

“There are many disabled people and seniors who use the bus,” said Diane VanderWeyden of Frederick. “They may not do it every day, but they depend on it ... what will they do?”

Joan Bacashihua of the Freedom Center told officials eliminating the stops will negatively affect 1,000 people. She has been gathering “hundreds of signatures” on petitions, she said, and has contacted U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikluski’s (D) office and the U.S. Department of Justice who administers the Americans with Disabilities Act “to try and help our seniors and handicapped.”

“Increasing bus runs for the convenience to some customers by cutting off some very vital areas may not be the road to take,” Bacashihua said. “I hope that this isn’t written in stone.”

Burford and other officials told the small group gathered at Winchester Hall that TransIT is looking for feedback and will take all suggestions to the commissioners, but reiterated funding is a problem.

“We hear you loud and clear ... We have been asked by the commissioners to reduce funding by 30 percent, and we are looking at ways to reduce costs,” Burford said.

If approved, bus fare will increase from $1.10 to $1.25 on July 30 and rise an additional 25 cents in 2014. Fares for TransIT plus, on demand trips for seniors and the disabled, would increase from $1.50 to $2.50 for medical trips, and from $2.50 to $4.50 for nonmedical trips. TransIT’s last increase was 20 years ago when fares went up by 10 cents.

The route changes were recommended in a 2007 transportation study, but county budget cuts made it difficult to implement them, Burford said. After a year-long study of bus ridership, TransIT officials determined they could make some improvements without additional funding. Latest ridership figures show 835,000 passengers in 2011.

“This is a very exciting change and a whole different approach,” said Commissioner Paul Smith (R), the commissioners’ liaison to TransIT. “I would predict that this will catch on and help increase ridership.”

After the meeting Monday night, Smith said although he sympathizes with the concerns expressed, changes need to be made that affect the majority of the ridership.

“Where do you draw the line?” Smith asked.

TransIT officials will have training sessions at the C. Burr Artz Library’s community room to help people understand the route changes at 2 p.m. July 12, 10 a.m. July 16, and 2 p.m. July 26. If commissioners approve the plan, changes will go into effect on July 30.

To see the proposed route changes and fare increases, visit www.frederickcountymd.gov/transit. To give feedback, call TransIT Services of Frederick County at 301-600-2065.

kheerbrandt@gazette.net