Ecker moves to save bus service for disabled Subscription-trip limit imposed to stretch funding

March 25, 1998|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker has approved limiting subscription trips -- standing orders for regular pickups -- to help keep afloat a bus service for disabled people that has become so successful its budget could run out as soon as next month.

But Ecker rejected two other measures, including doubling the $1 fare.

In a March 13 letter to the Public Transportation Board, Ecker said that he agreed with the panel's recommendation last month to limit the number of subscription trips that may be reserved each month between March and June -- the end of the budget year -- for disabled riders on the Howard Area Transit Service (HATS).

But he rejected a proposal to double the $1 fare and another to provide $30,000 more in county funds to keep the service for disabled riders, called ADAPT, afloat.

"While I respect the board's rationale, I do not wish to raise HATS-ADAPT fares at the present time," Ecker wrote in the letter that was made public at a board meeting last night."I am concerned that such an action would cause a hardship for some ADAPT patrons and would create an inequity between ADAPT and the other HATS service components, all of which charge a $1 fare."

Board member Richard F. Kirchner echoed Ecker's feelings.

"It was manifestly unfair that people who use other parts of the system pay only $1 while disabled people, who are generally low-income, have to pay $2," he said. "I thought it was singling out disabled people."

The service -- mandated by the 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.

But officials of Corridor Transportation Corp., which manages HATS, have said that too many passengers are using the subscription service, making it likely that all of ADAPT's budget, and much of the capital budget fund designated for new buses, will be consumed.

From June to January, 6,650 total trips were requested. That leaves 5,493 trips until June before the $299,500 budget runs out, Ray Ambrose, CTC's transit administrator, has said. Last night, he estimated that another 1,600 trips were requested in February.

Officials have said that a cap of 465 subscription trips a month could stretch the budget to the end of the fiscal year.

But board member Andrea Paskin, who also works for Developmental Services Group, a Columbia agency that helps disabled citizens, said limiting subscription trips will hurt people who need that kind of service the most.

"Subscription rides are the rides that take people to work," she said before the meeting. "Individuals who are told that they have no rides and have no affiliated agency to depend on may not be able to get to work. And this puts more pressure on agencies to provide the service."

But Carl Balser, chief of the county's Division of Transportation Planning, said the limit is a better alternative than a fare increase. "Approving the cap is precisely what we and CTC had asked for. Asking for a fare increase would not have done much."

Pub Date: 3/25/98

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