Riders dodge bus route cuts | TheUnion.com

Riders dodge bus route cuts

Impassioned riders pleaded with Nevada County transportation officials not to cut bus routes Wednesday, saying they would welcome fare increases to keep their main mode of transportation rolling.

Members of the western county’s Transit Services Commission were considering a recommendation from county staff to eliminate the weekday bus to Colfax, night service from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. between Grass Valley and Nevada City, and one of the four daily runs to North San Juan.

But about a dozen speakers at the public hearing said they needed the routes to go to work, school, medical appointments and links to other transportation.

“A rate increase would be better” than route cuts, said Oleita Nagayama, who uses the bus to Colfax to shop, go to the doctor and bank from her home off Highway 174. “It’s a hardship, but better than having no bus at all.”

Commission members tabled the proposed action and said more discussion on changing routes and fares will come at the next hearing, set for 9:30 a.m. Sept. 17 at Grass Valley City Hall.

Other speakers said they would be willing to pay more than the current $1 per ride per zone to help the Gold Country Stage bus line make up a projected $230,000 operating deficit for the 2008-09 fiscal year, which started July 1.

Commission member and county Supervisor John Spencer said a staff-proposed increase to $1.50 per ride might not be enough to cover the deficit and future operating expenses. He suggested looking at doubling fares, bringing a one-zone ride to $2 and a monthly one-zone pass to $60.

If the county raised the price to $1.50 per ride and the monthly passes to $50 as the staff suggested, it would bring the deficit down to $5,000, said County Public Works Director Doug Farrell. Revenues are flat due to lower gas tax receipts and expenses that continue to climb, he said.

Ideas for solvency

“The 800-pound gorilla in the room” is the California Legislature’s failure to pass a budget, bringing more uncertainty to the situation, Farrell said.

Last year, the county received $374,000 in state transportation funds and projected $370,000 for this fiscal year, but no one knows how much money, if any, is coming.

At a cost of $28 per rider one way to Colfax, and almost $20 per rider to North San Juan, expense justifications are hard to find, Farrell said.

“I realize this is a pessimistic view, but we need to be diligent,” Farrell said.

Commission member and Supervisor Nate Beason said the Gold Country Stage generates only 11 percent of its revenue from fares and must maintain at least a 10 percent rate ” or face funding cuts from the state.

“Maybe we should charge a premium rate” on the longer runs to Colfax and North San Juan, he said.

Rider Ken Dorris suggested using smaller buses for some runs that are not full during certain times, adding, “These new buses are gas hogs.”

Grass Valley resident Terry Lamphier suggested a one-quarter cent sales tax to support the beleaguered transit agency and said the proposed route cuts would eliminate about 17,000 boardings per year.

Many of the people in the room had no other transportation choices, Lamphier said, adding, “This is the time to push for more public transportation, not less.”

“Public transportation will become more and more important as gas prices rise and our culture changes,” said Janelle Black, who uses the bus to get to Auburn and links to Sacramento.

“I’d like to see expansion of service,” Spencer said. “The terrible problem for us is how to pay for it.”

Commission member Ann Guerra said the notion of combining Gold Country Stage routes with Durham School Services buses for efficiency would probably not fly with Durham, because it is a private entity that could lose money doing it.

Commission Chairwoman Sally Harris, of the Nevada City council, said it should still be explored to check all options.

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

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