Successful bus service for disabled may be reduced budget running out

Transportation board to decide on Feb. 24

January 29, 1998|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

A headline and article in Thursday's Howard County edition of The Sun mischaracterized a proposal for a local bus service. The proposal entails placing limits on the frequency of reserved-service trips but does not involve a reduction in service.

The Sun regrets the error.

Though most bus service in Howard County goes begging for passengers, one designed to transport disabled individuals is so successful that its administrators want to cut it back before its budget runs out.

That's what Ray Ambrose, transit administrator for the Laurel-based Corridor Transportation Corp. (CTC), told the county's Public Transportation Board Tuesday night during the panel's monthly meeting. The CTC manages the Howard Area Transit Service (HATS).


The board voted unanimously to postpone a decision on the proposal until its Feb. 24 meeting.

Ambrose told the board that ridership on the HATS ADAPT service doubled from 500 trips a month in August to 1,000 trips a month in November.

The service -- mandated by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act -- transports about 230 disabled residents who cannot use the county's fixed-route service. Individuals who qualify to use HATS ADAPT can reserve a bus 24 hours in advance and be picked up at their doors.

Ambrose said that 26 percent of the service's budget was used from August to October, raising concerns that fund will run out before the end of the fiscal year in July.

"We see continued growth in this area," Ambrose told the board. "I know that we're coming close to hitting the ceiling now. Come springtime, this could be a serious problem."

Carl Balser, the county's chief of transportation planning, said the timing of the proposal is appropriate.

"The thought is to be flexible now," he said. "I know [CTC doesn't] want to come back to the board and make another cut, because that's embarrassing. And I know they don't want to say to a customer, 'We can't pick you up.' "

Ambrose said a cap of 25 percent on subscription trips -- standing orders for regular pickups -- should be imposed. Such pickups are now one-third of the Howard service's trips, he said.

But several board members expressed reservations about imposing a cap on a service that is evidently needed.

"I'm concerned about our restricting people who have no other recourse for transportation," said member Richard Kirchner, who a former director of the county Commission on Aging. "There are people who are very dependent on this."

Added board Chairman Jeffry Barnett: "This is a tough call."

Member David P. Maier suggested doubling the $1 fare charge to inject the budget with more revenue, but Balser said such an increase would be difficult to deal with.

"It makes it more confusing by having different fares for different services," said Balser, noting that the $1 fare applies to the county's other bus programs. "A fare increase hits a very vulnerable clientele. While it's something we might have to do in the future, we don't want to do it in a cavalier way."

The board asked Ambrose to provide figures and projections on ridership and the budget.

Pub Date: 1/29/98

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