The Howard County Public Transportation Board decided unanimously last night to cut in half bus service in the western county to save money and retain riders.
By a 6-0 vote, the board cut from four to two the number of daily trips offered between Lisbon and The Mall in Columbia by the Howard Area Transit Service (HATS). In June, the board had discussed eliminating the trips altogether.
"The key is to keep something going and to see if we can use it to its fullest potential," said board Chairman Daniel J. Maletic, explaining last night's action.
The bus service, which has 18 stops between Lisbon and the mall, began operating in March.
Peter Hefler, deputy administrator for Corridor Transportation Corp. (CTC), a nonprofit company that manages the county bus system, told the board that running the four-trip schedule would exhaust the western service's funding of $26,574 by December.
Hefler said a survey of riders who use the western service indicated that they would support a change to one morning trip from Lisbon and one afternoon trip from Columbia.
"We want to keep it running," Hefler said. "I think people in rural communities are entitled to transit just like people in high-density areas."
At the June board meeting, some members suggested eliminating the service because only 230 riders -- paying $1 each -- had used the service between March and June.
But last night, the board said it would try to restore the four trips after Hefler said there is hope that funding could be increased in next year's budget.
"It's important to keep some continuity," said board member Richard Kirchner. "Otherwise, we'd be forced to pull the plug before the end of the year, and there are a group of people who depend on this."
Added board member Jeffry Barnett: "To have the service on-again and off-again is disruptive to the riders, and it undermines their confidence in the service. CTC has said it's possible we could have the [four-trip] service again, which is all the more reason not to damage the existing ridership."
In other matters, Hefler reported CTC officials are reviewing delays along the Green route, which they say are caused by construction at The Mall in Columbia and Harper's Choice Village Center.
Hefler said officials are proposing using buses from the Red route, which runs from the mall to Dobbin Center, to supplement buses on the Green route whenever delays occur.
He said the delays are a minor blemish on an otherwise healthy public transportation system.
Hefler said ridership has increased from 18,783 in August to 22,438 last month on the four HATS services, which include Connect-A-Ride from Laurel Centre Mall to The Mall in Columbia and para-transit service for disabled and income-eligible riders.
Hefler also noted CTC has responded to complaints riders voiced in August -- the firm that operates the buses has put new equipment in service and installed a new general manager. As a result, complaints are down.
"As the numbers suggest, we are improving. And that's encouraging," he said.
Pub Date: 10/29/97