WA: Twin Transit to Cut Services Amid Budget Shortage

June 19--An increase in Twin Transit riders applying for the paratransit service, door-to-door pickup for people with disabilities, is beginning to burden the public transportation provider.

Twin Transit is facing potential service reductions due to the increase in paratransit services, according to Twin Transit General Manager Rob LaFontaine.

"The challenge we are facing is we are seeing a significant number of our passengers applying for paratransit because they see it is more convenient to use," LaFontaine said. "I suspect that word is getting out among our ridership that if you apply for paratransit, you don't have to ride the fixed route bus anymore. You can ride the door-to-door bus at the same cost."

The Twin Transit Board is scheduled to meet this morning to discuss potential service reduction options to balance the annual $2 million budget.

The 2014 budget is over about $100,000 to $116,000 compare to last year, LaFontaine said, based on more resources being used for the paratransit. Each paratransit ride cost Twin Transit $27, compared to $5 for a regular fixed-route. Twin Transit is providing more than 1,000 paratransit rides per month, an increase from about 800 per month last year.

"We don't have enough resources. There is just too much demand for service that we cannot support," LaFontaine said. "We have had to add more drivers and more buses, but there is no more money for that service. Our ridership is up, but other than the fares we get, that doesn't begin to cover the cost. That is what is causing the imbalance."

LaFontaine is proposing seven service reduction options to the board. The options include major cutbacks to weekend services and cutting the newly implemented route to Tumwater.

Once the board selects an option, a 30-day public comment period will begin before any decisions are made final. Services could begin getting cut by July.

Twice this year Twin Transit had to add more paratransit bus service, since more people are signing up, LaFontaine said. Twin Transit is not allowed to turn away a paratransit user, which often happened in the past.

"I'm of the opinion that Twin Transit historically has not operated a paratransit program in full compliance with the Federal Transit Administration guideline for paratransit services," LaFontaine said. "People that were not using it years ago are now using the service."

The increase in riders has not turned into more income for the transit service. Twin Transit relies on taxpayer money to fund its budget no matter how many riders use the service.

The bottom line, LaFontaine said, is the demand of paratransit riders is not meeting the transit's resources.

"We are just stretched too thin," LaFontaine said.

Copyright 2014 - The Chronicle, Centralia, Wash.