BROOKSVILLE — County Commissioner Jeff Stabins is taking THE Bus next week, and it's not because his car is in the shop.
Stabins will ride THE Bus because he was assigned that duty by fellow Republicans at the Reagan Day dinner late last year.
Commissioners' services were auctioned off at the dinner as a fundraiser for local charities, and Stabins thought he was off the hook by offering to cook dinner for a party of four.
It was Commissioner Jim Adkins, who is not a fan of THE Bus, who was supposed to take the ride, but others at the dinner put Stabins into the mix instead. Although Stabins said Thursday he isn't sure why he was asked to replace Adkins, he is one of the stronger Republican supporters of the mass transit service.
Jerry Hammett, Brookridge Republican Club president, has been urging Stabins to fulfill his obligation, and will accompany him. Another invited rider, Blaise Ingoglia, will be a no-show, however.
Ingoglia, chairman of the Republican Executive Committee, was the organizer of the 2007 Government Gone Wild Seminars that called for deep cuts in the county budget. Part of that drive was to eliminate THE Bus because ridership was low and the service wasn't needed.
Ingoglia said in an e-mail that he would not be able to make it due to pressing GOP business. It would have been his first ride on THE Bus.
On Thursday at 11:08 a.m., Stabins and Hammett plan to board THE Bus in front of Stabins' office in the Utilities Customer Service office at 7429 Spring Hill Drive at Kass Circle.
They will travel approximately 90 percent of the service route, transferring buses, circling Brooksville and returning to the utilities office.
Stabins said he is looking forward to meeting and talking with the people who ride THE Bus. As for whether he thought sharing the experience with others would change the minds of anyone about the need for the service, he said: "I don't know. They're human beings. They'll get to meet some people they have not talked to before.''
Stabins said he likely wouldn't have voted to start the transit service in the first place, but he does support it now. Not only does the state Department of Transportation look more favorably on counties with some form of mass transit, but "some people have become very, very dependent on it, especially during this deep recession.''
Fewer rely on it now than before a service cut last year, and that includes another person joining the Republican officials on the trip, county transportation coordinator Dennis Dix.
Dix used to ride THE Bus all the time, but when the County Commission voted last year to slice the service from a bus at each stop each hour to a bus at each stop every two hours, he said, "I couldn't use it to commute anymore.''
Plenty of other people dropped off the service then, too. The current daily average ridership has been about 281 for this month. Before the Oct. 1 cut in service, the average daily ridership was about 600, Dix said.
The cut in service saved $420,000 in federal, state and local money, with local county money accounting for $142,000 of that.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.