Bus routes face cutbacks

Annapolis may alter service after $850,000 drop in federal funds

August 20, 2006|By NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON | NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON,SUN REPORTER

Faced with a significant cut in federal transit funds, the city of Annapolis is preparing to cut bus routes that link the city to other destinations in Anne Arundel County and is scrambling to find ways to make up for the financial hit.

Due to a change in census designation, the city stands to lose about $850,000 in federal funds that are used to subsidize operations of the Annapolis Transit bus system, which has a $4.25 million annual budget. At the same time, the city is facing fuel costs that have jumped by about 30 percent in the last year.

The federal funding cut dates back to the 2000 census, when Annapolis was moved, for statistical purposes, into the larger Baltimore metropolitan area. That means it can't access federal funds for operations. Annapolis, which has a population of about 35,000 residents, had been grouped under metropolitan areas with fewer than 200,000 residents.

About 50 other communities around the country face a similar loss in federal funds. The Annapolis Transit cut means the city will no longer receive grants to pay drivers, cover fuel costs and maintain buses.

"We are trying to get people to understand that this is not just an abstract situation," said Danielle Matland, the city's transportation director. "There actually will be service cuts. We're going to try to pinpoint our changes so they have the least negative impact and inconvenience for people."

A public hearing on the possible changes is scheduled for 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Loews Hotel, 126 West St. in Annapolis.

Bus routes linking the city to other county destinations will likely be scaled back first, as those routes are longer and costlier, Matland said. County routes serve communities such as Edgewater and Deale in southern Anne Arundel County; Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold; and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in western Anne Arundel.

The county routes account for about 200,000 of the transit system's 1.4 million passenger trips a year.

Matland said the department is looking for revenue-generating opportunities in addition to bus advertisements, shipping services and the sale of Greyhound tickets.

A 25-cent fare increase slated for Sept. 1 is expected to bring in about $100,000 in revenue, she said. The base fare now is 75 cents.

However, Charles Weikel, who serves on Mayor Ellen O. Moyer's transportation advisory board, said that county cuts, which could amount to about $100,000, would have a "negligible cash impact" and still leave the city in the red by February.

"There needs to be something else besides cutting county routes. What that is, we don't know," he said. "There will either be additional service cutbacks in the city, evenings, weekends, or we have to find $750,000 somewhere and it's not in the city budget, unless someone drops us some manna from heaven or there is a golden angel from the state."

Holly Henderson, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transit Administration, said that the state is looking into ways to help but it is too early to know if additional funds would be available.

The transportation department is preparing recommendations that will be ready for Moyer's review in about a month. Moyer said she is committed to maintaining transit service levels within the city.

"We are not going to cut back on services to the city," Moyer said. "In fact we need to expand our shuttle service flexibility and that is what I have asked our staff to do. But our citizens are not going to be paying for county services."

In July, the city's transportation advisory board released a report that warned of increased traffic congestion, pollution and parking problems if public transit were cut. County cuts could have a "spillover effect" in a city where about 16 percent of residents use the bus service, Weikel said.

"We're talking about 16 percent more cars downtown and on Forest Drive, and it could have an impact on how well businesses do," he said. "It's a real issue, an approaching crises."

In the meantime, Moyer is lobbying Congress to pass the Federal Transit System Flexibility Protection Act of 2006, which would restore the city funding. She wants the city to partner with the county to provide bus service outside of Annapolis.

nia.henderson@baltsun.com

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