Frederick County Commissioners approve bus fare increase, might cut services -- Gazette.Net


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Frederick’s Board of County Commissioners will have to decide July 5 whether to cut bus services or hire two full-time drivers. The discussion arose June 21 after the board unanimously approved a 40 cent fare increase, which will be phased in during the course of the next two years.

TransIT officials have four driver vacancies and told commissioners during their regular meeting that they need two drivers to continue to operate as they are now. The money for the positions is in the 2013 county budget passed in June that goes into effect July 1. Commissioner Paul Smith (R) — who led the meeting after Commissioner’s President Blaine R. Young (R) recused himself because he is co-owner of Yellow Cab — wanted to approve the request. Smith had agreement from Commissioner David P. Gray (R), but Commissioners Kirby Delauter (R) and Billy Shreve (R) wanted more information.

“This is a hiring decision, which we usually don’t get involved in,” Smith said, “...but the only alternative I am hearing is to cut services.”

The question is critical, said TransIT Director Sherry Burford, because employees are asking for time off this summer, and she will have to deny vacations. Burford said TransIT has needed drivers since January, and that she has been filling in with part timers on Saturdays and in the evenings. Part timers, she said, usually are not available for the day shift.

County Manager Dave Dunn said cutting services could mean a lot of things, but that routes and stops “are all on the table.”

“I just want us to look at everything in the toolbox, like outsourcing and other options,” Dunn said.

Dunn leads a committee that decides whether to fill vacant positions in the county, but he wanted Burford to take her request to the commissioners, he said, because it is “a political decision to cut services.”

TransIT was tasked with cutting 30 percent of its budget, and will accomplish that through fare increases and other revenue enhancements such as advertising, Burford said.

As of July 30, riders will pay more to ride the bus, but less than initially proposed. Route and schedule changes initiated by TransIT officials will make taking the bus faster and more convenient, but customers will pay a phased increase in regular fares, which will go from $1.10 to $1.25 on July 30, and then to $1.50 in July 2014.

TransIT had proposed a $1 to $2 increase in TransIT Plus, an on-demand service for seniors and the disabled, but Smith recommended reducing that increase to 50 cents. TransIT also will provide rides to those along Fairview Avenue in Frederick on an on-call basis. Ridership was below one passenger per day, so TransIT cut the route. Seniors and disabled residents, however, opposed the change, so now riders can call TransIT the day before for pickup.

Joan Bacashihua of Freedom Center, an organization for people with disabilities, thanked commissioners and TransIT for their responsiveness.

TransIT will provide more information on the route and schedule changes in a series of meetings at the community room at the C. Burr Artz Library in Frederick at 2 p.m. July 12, 10:30 a.m. July 20 and 2 p.m. July 26. To learn more, visit www.frederickcountymd.gov/.

kheerbrandt@gazette.net