Bus Fares May Jump While Routes Would Be Fewer

Lack Of State Fundingmakes Columbus More Costly To County

March 24, 1991|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff writer

Fares for ColumBus, the county's only public bus system, would increase between 15 cents and 25 cents, and the six-route system would be cut to four if a new Columbia Association proposal is approved.

The association, which operates the bus system with county, state and federal subsidies, said cutbacks in state transportation funds make the changes necessary. The association hopes to start the fare increaseand route changes in May.

"The fact of the matter is that after May 1, . . . we don't have funds for anything but a four-bus system," said Jacqueline A. Dewey, association vice president and Community Services director, in a meeting of the Public Transportation Board last week.

The communities that would lose bus service include all or parts of the Longfellow, Clary's Forest, Swansfield, Hobbit's Glen, Martin Road, Thunder Hill Road, Oakland Ridge, Cradlerock Way, Shaker Drive, Kindler Road, Rivers and Kilimanjaro Road-Jeffers Hill areas.

Bus service would continue to the county government complex and historic Ellicott City. Service to Chatham Mall, St. John's Plaza and Normandy Shopping Center onRoute 40 would be eliminated.

Dewey said the Columbia Associationgot stuck paying $240,000 in operating costs after a cap was placed last December on Maryland Transportation funding for both the 1990 and 1991 fiscal years. All operating costs are supposed to be paid by government grants. The association's current 1991 fiscal year ends April 30 and was half over when the association was notified of the cap,Dewey said.

Operating four instead of six buses will save about $225,000, while fare increases will cover the remainder of the expected $253,000 shortfall for fiscal year 1992, Dewey said.

Although Thursday night's board meeting was advertised as a public hearing, no one showed up to comment on the route cuts and fare increases.

County Transportation Coordinator Louis Pinkney said the county administration needs more time to evaluate the proposals, and will give board members its recommendation by Monday or Tuesday.

The board will then make a recommendation to the state Public Service Commission, which has final say over the changes.

Fares for all trips under the proposal would increase from 75 cents to $1 for adults; 60 to 75 centsfor senior citizens, the handicapped and children 6 to 11 years old.Non-peak-hour fares for senior citizens and the handicapped will increase from 35 to 50 cents.

Board member Catherine S. Hill commended the ColumBus revamping, saying she had been concerned for some timeabout wasting money running empty buses.

"I quite frankly thoughtit needed to be done two years ago," she said.

"This is a better system and I'm convinced of that," said Dewey after the hearing, explaining that the areas that lost service were generating only one or two riders a day, while other areas that have higher ridership are better served with faster and more frequent service.

The four routes will make 16 trips a day instead of 10 and will operate on loops thattake 45 minutes instead of an hour.

Also proposed are "early bird" routes, which will run between 6:30 and 8 a.m. to Longfellow, Hobbit's Glen, Jeffers Hill and Clemens Crossing neighborhoods. Testimony from some riders at a Feb. 7 Columbia Council hearing and calls to the association prompted the addition of the early bird express service.

Association management also met to work out routing concerns with residents of senior citizen housing complexes, Columbia's village boards, the county Association of Retarded Citizens and the county's disability awareness coordinator.

Residents of at least one neighborhood left out of the loop won't be disappointed.

Members of the St. John's Lane Community Association opposed the routing of Ellicott City line added to the ColumBus system last fall because it went through their neighborhood on its way in and out of Dorsey's Search, where residents generally favored bus service.

The new Ellicott City route, because it only goes through Dorsey's Search one way, will bypass all but a short portion of Columbia Road in the St. John's area.

Another change anticipated for ColumBus, Dewey told the board, was that bus stops would be designated for the routes within the next 12 months, so riders would no longer have to flag buses down.

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