Transit Hearings Meaningful Or Just A Formality?

More than a hundred anxious riders of the Metro Mobility system braved the cold on January 22nd to plead with members of the Regional Transit Board. Recent news articles and public statements by Mr. Michael Ehrlichmann the board chairman, had indicated that services may be curtailed, and fares increased.

The hearing room was filled rows of wheelchairs and number of guide dogs in the aisles making access to the podium quite difficult.  Less than half of the RTB board members chose to be present

One after another, representatives of various agencies and support groups made their way forward to protest any reduction in the present services. Individuals recounted their dependence on the door-to-door transit system for participation in the routines of daily life.

The testimony tended to reiterate the following points:

1)Over 60% of the regular riders use the service daily to go to work or school. These riders are not making choices among other services or using their own vehicles. They are relying on a dependable transportation system for their education and their ability to hold jobs. Nothing else is available.

2)These daily riders and others use the system to shop, go to the doctor or dentist, visit a relative in the hospital, go to a movie or out to dinner. Without Metro Mobility, these activities which others may take for granted become nearly impossible.

3)Full funding of Metro Mobilty is a necessity for the users of the service. Any cutting will take away the ability to hold jobs or attend schools, as well as restricting daily activities in all areas. The system really needs more funds to provide basic transportation for those unable to travel on conventional busses. MTC busses with lifts and possible light rail systems are not a substitute for door-to-door paratransit. The recently passed ADA legislation was thought to contain a mandate for communities to offer public transportation to all citizens.

4)   Should the state of the states financial problems become a direct burden on those who ire most vulnerable?

No solutions were offered at the hearings, although the audience was urged to take their case to the legislators directly by some board members.

“Since the hearings, there have been several newspaper accounts on proposed cuts in Funding, plus the announcement of a tentative raise in fares.

When asked about the truth of these reports, Mr. Ehrlich­mann verified that the RTB expects a $2,000,000 reduc­tion in their budget over the next six months, and that about $500,000 of that amount may have to be cut from the Metro Mobility budget. Every effort will be made to make cuts which are least harmful to the rid­ers, and to regain lost subsi­dies with higher fares dur­ing peak hours.

The current plan, according to Mr. Ehrlichmann, is to raise peak hour fares to $1.50 from the present $1.00. The effect is hoped to be two-fold. Reduction of rider-ship during peak hours which are overburdened (with less efficient service), plus a gain in revenue to replace the lost subsidy.

Mr. Ehrlichmann also pointed out that the budget for the current biennium expiring in June this year was about $23,000,000. “Full funding” for the next two years, con­tinuing to provide the serv­ices now in use, such as trip-assurance, will mean a budget of $30,000,000. Although $15,000,000 annually seems a large amount by any stan­dard, it must be remembered that Metro Mobility routinely provides over 160,000 rides per month for those who have to depend on this service.