BROOKSVILLE — Saving THE Bus, the county's public transit system, is coming at a cost to riders.
And next week, in a series of workshops, county officials will ask riders and the rest of Hernando County's residents what they think of the fee increases proposed for October.
The increases would bring in about $50,000, money that county taxpayers won't have to pay to subsidize the transit service. One of the goals set by County Administrator David Hamilton was to reduce the county's subsidy for THE Bus by $200,000, which is about a third of what the county pays for the service.
Half of those savings will come from the county's decision to pull the plug on planned service enhancements along the U.S. 41 corridor, according to Dennis Dix, the county's transportation coordinator.
The rest will come by transferring fueling and maintenance from the current bus operator to the county. That will allow the county to collect more federal money to offset maintenance costs, and it will reduce the cost of the contract with the operator.
Most of the cost of the transit service is paid for with federal dollars, and the county is required to gather public input before raising fares. The county plans two meetings in the community and one at the county government center.
The proposal would raise regular fares from $1 to $1.25 on Oct. 1 with another increase, to $1.50, on July 1, 2009. By doing two smaller increases rather than one large one, the hope is that not as many riders are lost and the financial hit doesn't come all at once, Dix explained.
The last time fares were increased, they were doubled. The service lost 25 percent of its ridership. But within five months, the numbers rebounded.
The transfer system also will be phased out under the proposal. Transfers are currently free, but would go to 50 cents on Oct. 1, then be eliminated July 1, 2009.
Dix said that the county is working on a more customer-friendly system for riders to obtain their passes, which would likely include making passes available at retail establishments along the bus routes. Now riders must get passes from the county government center, libraries and through the mail.
Larger transit services have kiosks and electronic methods for selling passes, but, while they are efficient, they are also too costly for Hernando County to consider, he said.
Dix said that during the recent survey of bus riders, many were fine with an increase in fares, especially since they didn't like the alternative of stopping service altogether. In fact, many of the riders were urging the county to add routes and days, even though county officials were looking for ways to reduce costs.
"I'm very glad that we did not lose any days or routes," Dix said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.