Frederick County’s TransIT bus service has been forced to reduce its transportation for senior citizens and the disabled due to driver cutbacks.
TransIT Plus, an on-demand service for seniors and the disabled who are unable to drive, is looking to fill four full-time vacant driver positions to run 16 trips daily. But with only 12 full-time drivers they have been forced to cut back to 13 or 14 trips a day.
But hiring four full-time drivers will not be easy.
As of July 1, the county has told TransIT that health care benefits, holiday pay and sick leave will not be offered.
“We have a lot of people signing up for that,” TransIT Director Sherry Burford said sarcastically. “We’re allowed to fill them, but they are nonbenefit positions. You can work 40 hours with no benefits.”
The annual salary for a full-time TransIT Plus driver is $30,139, or $14.49 an hour, Burford said.
In fiscal 2012, 3,788 passengers used the service monthly, Burford said. Last month, 3,281 people used TransIT Plus, a 14 percent decrease.
Passengers must call in advance to reserve a space. In the past, they could call two days in advance. Now they need to call 10 days in advance, to ensure a ride to appointments throughout the county.
“A number of the trips are for the disabled who have to get to jobs, and a lot are for the frail and elderly who can’t drive,” she said. “We have advised the commissioners of the impact.”
But County Manager David Dunn defends the reduction in service as a way to reduce the size of government and save taxpayer dollars. Since taking office in 2010, the Frederick County Board of Commissioners has privatized some services, cut government personnel and frozen positions to reduce spending.
“This is no secret that commissioners are trying to reduce the cost of government,” Dunn said. “This board has made it clear they want to shrink the cost of government.”
By not offering health care and benefits, the county will see an annual savings of $15,000 per driver, Burford said.
In fiscal 2013, the total operating budget for TransIT is $6 million. Of that, $830,938 is for the TransIT Plus service. Money to operate TransIT comes from the county, state and federal governments, passenger fares and advertising.
Starting July 1, the cost to ride TransIT Plus is $2 — up 50 cents from fiscal 2012, which ended June 30. Passengers can get a ticket in advance for $1.50.
Dunn said when any full-time position becomes vacant in county government, department heads and division directors must appear before a committee that he chairs, explaining the justification of filling a position. The committee includes the head of human resources, the finance director and budget officer.
Dunn said the committee and the director will most likely find other ways to fill a position. For instance, Burford was told she could hire part-time drivers if she cannot find people to work full-time.
“We have to try to work with new tools in the tool box,” he said. “We might try outsourcing. She [Burford] has some success hiring part-time people without benefits. She will find them. I don’t buy it that she can’t. It has worked previously.”
Burford said they are looking to have their part-time drivers fill in, but that is difficult because most of them work full-time at other jobs during the day. Most of their part-time drivers work a set shift at night, transporting passengers on a fixed route around the county.
“We do fill in with part-timers as much as we can,” she said.
TransIT is currently advertising for a part-time driver, on call Monday through Friday, between 4 a.m. and 8 p.m., according to the county advertisement. The salary is $12.53 an hour, with no benefits.