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JeffTran riders fight cuts

Public hearings set for this week on transit system

A JeffTran driver maneuvers through the city streets while on an east end route.

A JeffTran driver maneuvers through the city streets while on an east end route. Photo by Julie Smith.

Planned cuts to Jefferson City’s transit system have riders and supporters mobilizing.

As part of a package of budget cuts approved last month to cover a $1.68 million shortfall for this fiscal year, JeffTran is looking at a “two-hour midday break,” as it’s called in the list of cuts, to save $55,000 from the transit budget. The break would stop all transit service, including Handi Wheels, from 11:20 a.m.-2:40 p.m. each day.

City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus said that time frame was identified as the slowest period of the day for transit.

Nickolaus had said it was possible the $55,000 from the proposed midday break may have to come from elsewhere in the transit system, but so far, no alternatives have been announced.

“I think that when the people speak we’re hoping to get feedback from them and maybe come up with some other ideas,” Nickolaus said. “I think the staff is considering other options that they might have, so it’s kind of an open question at this point.”

Transit division director Richard Turner said the cuts are, at this point, still proposed and the community is in the discussion phase.

“We’re getting comments ... from the riders, from the public in general,” Turner said. “We’ll make sure those get to the council.”

And some transit supporters are already working to gather comments and signatures in support of the transit system.

Heidi Lucas, chair of the Citizens for JeffTran group, said she and the group members do not want the midday break in service and believe the city should not cut a public service that is used by so many residents.

“We think Jefferson City being the capital, we should be a model community for transportation for the entire state,” Lucas said. “The last thing we want to do is to be cutting our transit system.”

The city is required by federal regulations to hold public hearings before any change can be made to the transit schedule. Hearings will be held at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday and 3:30 p.m. Thursday at City Hall. Information from those hearings will be taken to the full City Council on May 6, where a third public hearing will be held.

The Citizens for JeffTran group has been gathering signatures and comments of transit and Handi Wheels riders to bring to the City Council. They also hope to be able to bring a large turnout to both the public hearings this week and the final hearing next month.

“We really want to get a lot of people at the City Council meeting in May,” Lucas said.

The group also is preparing for a large community event, something of a support rally at 4 p.m. April 18 at Common Ground Community Center.

Mayor Eric Struemph said he hopes to attend the hearings and find out more about the cut and “how that cut came about.”

“Transit is a big part of people’s daily lives that don’t have transportation, and I look forward to the hearings to find out if there’s ways that we can improve transit,” Struemph said. “My overall goal is to increase ridership however we can.”

But the midday break likely would result in a loss of riders.

According to figures provided by transit division, Handi Wheels saw 4,800 passengers in January and 4,100 passengers in February. Roughly 28 percent of those passengers would be lost if the service takes a midday break. Standard JeffTran routes could lose anywhere from 23 percent to 36 percent of riders from the midday break.

On Friday, Struemph said if the cuts will affect Handi Wheels, then the city will need to look elsewhere for the budget savings. Under the current cuts, Handi Wheels service also would be suspended during the midday break, as the service is complementary to the overall transit system and cannot run if other buses are not running.

“I guess I just didn’t realize that,” Struemph said of the cut to Handi Wheels. “I don’t see that being a very good idea.”

But any alternative cut is unlikely to come from within the transit budget. Turner said the transit division has cut all it can without affecting service.

“Over the last few years, we’ve been cutting and cutting. The only thing left for us in transit is to cut service, that’s the only thing that’s left,” Turner said. “We don’t want to cut service.”

Lucas said transit is vital to a community as it promotes public health and fuels economic development. She said many people rely on the transit system to get to and from work, as well as to run daily errands or get to doctor’s appointments.

“Public transportation is good for the environment, provides affordable and safe mobility for all of our citizens, and it builds a better community overall,” Lucas said. “Every good town has a good public transportation system, and we think it’s important for Jefferson City overall to allow people who may not otherwise be able to leave their homes to use the transit system.”

Lucas said the hours of the proposed midday break are the time when many people are going to meetings or appointments, depending on public transit. She said Handi Wheels users often need the service in that time frame and are likely to be stranded at a location if the break is implemented.

“People will be able to get places, and then they’ll get stuck there,” Lucas said. “It’s a huge deal for people.”

The transit system has a more than $5 million budget for this fiscal year. Of that amount, transit originally was slated to receive just under $900,000 from the city’s general fund. The package of budget cuts approved by the council last month included a total of $138,500 in cuts to the general fund contribution to transit.

The rest of transit’s budget comes largely from grants. For the current fiscal year, the transit system is scheduled to receive more than $3.2 million in federal, state and local grants. The system brings in $206,300 from charges for services, which includes fares for both JeffTran and Handi Wheels.

Transit ridership

The City Council approved a package of budget cuts last month to cover a $1.68 million shortfall for this fiscal year. As part of those cuts, transit would observe a “two-hour midday break” in an effort to save the city $55,000. The numbers in this chart reflect JeffTran passenger totals by route and the effects a midday break would have on that level of ridership.

Route: Total rides / Rides cuts would eliminate / % of riders lost

January 2013

Handi Wheels: 4,831 / 1,332 / 27.65

Bus. 50 East: 3,450 / 1,257 / 36.4

Capital Mall: 5,282 / 1,811 / 34.3

Missouri Blvd.: 5,377 / 1,840 / 34.2

High Street East: 2,852 / 847 / 29.7

High Street West: 3,467 / 797 / 23

Southwest: 2,830 / 784 / 27.7

February 2013

Handi Wheels: 4,100 / 1,160 / 28.3

Bus. 50 East: 3,243 / 1,136 / 35

Capital Mall: 4,540 / 1,669 / 36.8

Missouri Blvd.: 4,471 / 1,493 / 33.4

High Street East: 2,370 / 633 / 26.7

High Street West: 3,059 / 706 / 23.1

Southwest: 2,309 / 694 / 30.1

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