OH: Licking County Bus Service Discusses Cuts

July 18--NEWARK, Ohio -- Licking County residents who depend on public transportation to get to church on Sundays or to work on a weekday late shift might soon have to find alternatives.

The financially strapped Licking County Transit Services held its second public hearing on Wednesday night to discuss a proposal to eliminate Sunday service and halt weekday service at 8 p.m. instead of the current 11 p.m.

The move, according to a fact sheet presented at this week's hearing, would save the countywide transit service more than $300,000 a year.

The final decision is expected to be made at the transit board's Aug. 21 meeting.

The proposal was met with disappointment from some in attendance on Wednesday.

James Haynes said that if the proposed changes are approved, he'll have to change his work schedule. He currently works 2 to 11 p.m. at Walmart.

"Has anyone called the big-box stores to let them know that their available work force may be reduced?" he asked.

"They keep taking God out of the equation," said Linda Wollard, expressing her concern that residents could no longer depend on public transportation for Sunday church services.

She said the board did not do enough to promote ridership to church-goers, calling it a " well-hid secret" that Sunday service was available, adding that church bulletins would have happily included that information had the board reached out.

Transit General Manager Cathleen Sheets said increasing ridership won't solve the problem.

The actual cost per ride to the transit service is about $20, while fares typically range between $2 and $6.

The bulk of the annual $4 million budget comes from contracted services, charged at actual costs to the county Job and Family Services agency and Board of Developmental Disabilities, which together provide about $2 million. The Federal Transit Authority provides about $1.4 million a year.

And the federal funding is currently and chronically in budgetary cross hairs.

"We're not able to continue on the path we've been going," Sheets said.

The goal, then, she said, is to serve the highest needs and cut costs where the fewest people are affected.

Licking County Transit Services provides about 600 trips every weekday, but fewer than 15, on average, occur after 8 p.m.

Sunday service averages about 55 rides per day, bringing in less than $200 in fares while costing $1,800 per Sunday to operate.

Sheets said the system currently is operating on carryover revenue, and the prospect of substantially reduced federal funding later this year could put the entire transit system at risk.

"I understand that people aren't going to be excited about reducing service hours," said Licking County Commissioner Tim Bubb, director of the transit board. "But we at least have to try to be proactive and protect the core service to keep the system viable."

elyttle@dispatch.com

@ewlyttle

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