The agency that operates the bus system in the Columbia area says it will be forced to cut back its service to the bare minimum next summer.
The Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority’s board on Monday moved forward with a plan that would eliminate 75 percent of its service and lay off two-thirds of its employees. The plan still requires the approval of city and county councils.
If approved, the plan would take effect by July 2011, when funding will otherwise run out for the transit authority.
CMRTA spokesperson Brittany McMillan says the plan would reduce all remaining buses to run only during peak hours. She says that would hurt those riders who work outside of normal hours.
The real issue is all of those people that depend on the bus system to get to work… Over 75 percent of the people who use our bus system use it to get to a job. If we’re cutting out 75 percent of the service, it’s going to be really hard for those people to get to and from their jobs on a daily basis.
The CMRTA has been operating on a $11 million budget despite receiving only $3 million from Richland County and $2 million from the city. And the county money may not be coming in much longer. A vehicle fee that pays for the buses is set to expire in June, and the county has indicated it will not continue the unpopular fees.
That would also eliminate a matching $1 million that the city pays under an agreement with the CMTRA. According to the recommendations, local funding would total only $2.1 million after June 30, whereas CMTRA’s operating costs are expected to be more than $7 million. While there is also federal and state funding, McMillan say most of that cannot be used to operate the buses.
The proposal estimates the CMRTA will still be short about $3.2 million even after the cutbacks. Raising fares would not come close to making up the difference. However, the proposal would add a 25-cent transfer fee for those who switch buses during their commute. Currently, there is no charge.
McMillan said the remaining service would be very limited. The report recommends running only on weekdays from 5-10 am and 2-7 pm.
The agency will hold a public hearing on December 20. McMillan says the transit authority is expecting a lot of complaints from riders.
I know they’re going to be very scared and very angry about the outcome of this. I hope they know the CMRTA doesn’t want to make these cuts, there’s just no more money. We can’t operate this service with no money.
About 8,000 riders use the bus service.
Another service that will be hit is the city’s Dial-A-Ride Transit, which helps the elderly and disabled. McMillan says federal law requires that DART stops be located within three-quarters of a mile from a normal route, so those stops would also be affected. McMillan says that would hurt those who badly need it.
This is a whole span of the community that is really underrepresented. They don’t have an option, they have to use this service. They can’t drive a car. They can’t afford a taxi. They don’t have any relatives around to depend on. They’re going to lose their lifeline.