NEW PORT RICHEY — Catching a bus on Pasco County's most popular route will soon take longer if a proposed budget cut is approved.
The U.S. 19 route from State Road 52 to Pinellas County would be reduced from 30-minute pickup intervals to 45-minute waits starting Oct. 1.
The reduction is part of the county's 2008-09 budget proposal to be discussed at a County Commission meeting today.
With voter-mandated tax cuts, Pasco's property tax revenue is expected to drop $17-million for 2009, prompting 5 to 20 percent budget cuts across county departments.
"I know that once this hits the newsstands, this is going to create a lot of concern from people who use the bus service," said County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, whose district includes part of the route. "I think this is just the tip of the iceberg of the things we're going to see (in budget cuts)."
The county's budget problem is going to be felt in Moon Lake, too. A new bus route there was delayed last year — and will likely be shelved in 2009 also, although the board has to review and approve cuts.
The county will have a public hearing on the U.S. 19 route on Aug. 27, but only if it receives at least one written request for one by July 24.
Reducing the service along Route 19, which is what the U.S. 19 route is called, is expected to save almost $65,000 a year, said Assistant County Administrator Dan Johnson.
Two jobs assigned to the route will be cut from the county's budgeted staff of 62 drivers, but the employees will fill other jobs, Johnson said.
All other county mass transit buses make stops every 60 minutes. In 2005, however, pickups on Route 19 were increased from every hour to every half-hour.
But even county officials say the timing of the Route 19 cutback isn't the best with fuel prices up and growing demand for public transportation. Half of Pasco's nearly 1.2-million riders say they use the bus to get to work.
Pulling back service on the route allowed the county to keep holiday service elsewhere, Johnson said.
The proposed cut also comes as a consultant's report this month tabbed Route 19 as the most-used segment of Pasco's service. It will account for nearly 417,000 riders, a third of the users in 2009, according to a report from Tindale-Oliver & Associates in the Pasco County Public Transportation's proposed 10-year plan.
The route is so popular that the report recommended eventually increasing pickups to every 15 minutes and starting an express service line on U.S. 19.
"As the route with the highest ridership levels, Route 19 has been successful. The commuters who use this service have indicated that express service would be a better way to meet their work travel needs," the Tindale-Oliver report said.
With money short for its transit system, the commission doubled bus fares to $1 in March. But fares account for only 10 percent of the cost to run buses, with the remaining expense covered by local, state and federal money.
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