Transit riders voice opposition to cuts

A JeffTran bus traverses a Jefferson City street in this March 4, 2012, file photo.

A JeffTran bus traverses a Jefferson City street in this March 4, 2012, file photo. Photo by Julie Smith.

Jefferson City transit riders gathered Wednesday to voice their opposition to a proposed cut in bus service.

Roughly 25 people turned out for the city’s first public hearing on a proposed midday break, which would suspend service on both JeffTran and Handi Wheels from 11:20 a.m. to 2:40 p.m. each day. The proposed service suspension is part of a package of budget cuts approved last month to cover a $1.68 million shortfall for this fiscal year. The midday break would save the city $55,000 for the year.

Athough the City Council already has approved the package of cuts, the city is required by federal regulations to hold public hearings before any change can be made to the transit schedule.

Most of those in attendance Wednesday said they rely on transit to get around the city and they do not want to see the service cut. Wayne Lee, who uses both JeffTran and Handi Wheels, said many citizens need the transit system and being the capital city, Jefferson City should not hinder the service.

“If we don’t have buses operating in the capital city of Missouri, then you’ve got a weird capital city,” Lee said.

Paul Van Horn said he rode transit all day Friday to hear from riders about how the cuts would affect them. He said cutting the service would create all kinds of problems and noted the measure would only save $55,000, less than 1 percent of the city’s overall budget.

“Can we not find .19 percent in an operating budget of $29 million?” Van Horn asked.

Michelle Scott-Huffman said the midday break would affect many who seek assistance from the Nichols Career Center. She said people would lose opportunities for employment because of a lack of transit service.

“It’s a very real matter of livelihood,” Scott-Huffman said.

Helen Rigden, director of the Missouri River Regional Library, said the library has concerns about the break in service because many patrons depend on transit to get to and from the library. Cutting that service, she said, only would diminish patrons’ ability to use library resources to apply for jobs or further their education. Rigden urged the city to look for other cost-cutting measures instead.

The Rev. Doyle Sager, senior pastor at First Baptist Church, said the issue is making sure the city gives all people equal opportunity.

“My concern is a moral and spiritual one in terms of justice,” Sager said.

Sager said quality service should be maintained for all citizens, but often governments can find money when there is the political will to find it.

Vicki Schildmeyer said the group Citizens for JeffTran has gathered more than 300 signatures in opposition to the cuts and are gathering more every day.

“This is a crucial issue for people throughout our city,” Schildmeyer said.

Several transit riders also expressed concerns about what would happen to the transit drivers if the cuts go through. One woman said she doesn’t want to see any of the drivers get laid off because of the cuts, as they are good to the riders.

Lee said transit riders and drivers are all fine people who should not be punished by these cuts.

“I don’t want to see anything done to hurt them in any way,” Lee said.

Interim Public Works Director Matt Morasch said all comments from the hearings will be transmitted to the full council, which ultimately will decide whether to keep the proposed cuts.

Outgoing 4th Ward Councilman Bill Luebbert was the only council member present for the hearing Wednesday. Because Luebbert lost his re-election bid earlier this month, he will be off the council before a final decision is made. Mayor Eric Struemph did not attend the hearing.

Another hearing will be held on the issue at 3:30 p.m. today at City Hall. Information from the two hearings will be taken to the full City Council on May 6, where a third public hearing will be held.

“There’s multiple opportunities for people to comment on this issue,” Morasch said.

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