The Howard Area Transit Service (HATS) West bus service -- '' operating since March from Lisbon to The Mall in Columbia -- may be cut if ridership on the five-days-a-week service does not improve.
That warning emerged from Tuesday night's Howard County Public Transportation Board meeting. Three of the five members present suggested discontinuing the bus route, which is funded by the state's Mass Transit Administration (MTA).
The bus service, which has 18 stops, has attracted only 230 riders -- paying $1 each -- since it began operating March 24, according to a report compiled by Corridor Transportation Corp. (CTC), a nonprofit company that manages the county's nTC transportation system.
And although that number increased steadily during May and June, the nine-passenger minibus had four riders or fewer on half the 66 days of service, according to the report.
A $40,000 MTA grant that was supposed to subsidize the service for a year will dry up next month, the report said. The county received the same grant for 1998.
"I think it's a shame we're wasting this money," said member Perry G. Berman, who is resigning from the board this month. "I know that if we had this in another part of the county, we would have increased ridership and had better service."
Echoed member Z. Andrew Farkas: "It doesn't make sense to run this service in this part of the county."
But Carl Balser, transportation planning chief for the county Department of Planning and Zoning, cautioned board members from making quick judgments about the effectiveness of the service.
"I think it's a little early for that," he said. "I don't think we've reached the critical mass to determine if we've done all we can to attract more riders."
Balser said he is considering reducing the service to three days a week or asking MTA officials to convert it to a demand-response system that would serve riders requesting a bus at least 24 hours in advance.
He said ridership must at least double to continue the service.
Daniel J. Maletic, board chairman, suggested distributing ridership surveys to passengers.
"If it's possible to use [the grant money] in other ways, let's explore that," he said. "If not, let's stretch it out that we don't
burn it in less than three months."
Board members expressed frustration over the lack of ridership because early this year, as the board was considering implementing the service, it received numerous requests to back the bus route.
"I think it's disappointing," Berman said. "I don't think rural transportation will work, and I think the county has needs elsewhere."
But Betty Fry, director of the Western Howard County Senior Center in Glenwood, argued that insufficient publicity has been created to make residents aware of the bus route.
"I don't think a lot of people realize it's available," she said, adding that the time the bus takes to go from Lisbon to The Mall in Columbia is too long for most riders.
"Why ride an hour and a half when you can drive there in 30 minutes?" she asked.
Pub Date: 6/26/97