Bumpy road for bus system | TheUnion.com

Bumpy road for bus system

Higher fares and reduced routes are becoming more likely for riders of Nevada County’s Gold Country Stage later this year because of rising fuel costs and declining state funds.

Fares of $1 per ride have been enjoyed by riders since 1990, but members of the county’s Transit Services Commission hinted strongly that could end at their meeting Wednesday.

“It’s getting to a point where we have to raise prices or cut services,” said commissioner and county Supervisor Nate Beason. “Are we at a point where we have to take a hard look at how we’re operating?”

“Yes, and we’re doing it,” said Susan Healy-Harman, the county’s Transit Services Manager. “We need to look at options instead of waiting until the crisis hits.”

Options include a cutback of three routes to make up a projected budget shortfall of $135,000 to $200,000 for the upcoming 2008-2009 fiscal year.

The proposed cuts include all Monday through Friday runs to Colfax; one daily run to North San Juan and shorter hours on the evening route between Grass Valley and Nevada City.

With big increases in fuel costs during the past six months, “we’ll have to do something to recoup that cost,” said Commissioner and Supervisor John Spencer.

Ridership increased 10 percent during the 2006-2007 fiscal year and is on track to rise another 10 percent for the 2007-2008 fiscal year, a reflection of gasoline price increases, according to Healy-Harman.

But bus riders only pay about 11 percent of the cost to run the service, she said.

In addition, money from a one-quarter cent local sales tax that funds the bus line flattened this fiscal year and is expected to dip for 2008-2009 because of the lower sales at the gas pump and the prolonged economic slump.

Expectations of state funding cuts to $370,000, down from almost $500,000, will contribute to a deficit of up to $200,000 to start 2008-2009, Healy-Harman said.

Fare increases also are possible. But with money generated from fares expected to reach $275,000 for this fiscal year, even a 10 percent increase wouldn’t cut into the projected deficit much, said Nevada City Mayor and commission chair Sally Harris.

Commission members told Healy-Harman to come back with recommendations for the future operation of the bus routes for the July meeting. There is a possibility of an August public hearing for proposed service changes.

To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail dmoller@theunion.com or call 477-4237.

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