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Riders ask Pasco commission to put brakes on bus cuts

NEW PORT RICHEY — An extra 15-minute wait for the U.S. 19 bus may not sound like much, but it can make a big difference for Carol Harse.

Harse, who uses a wheelchair, told Pasco County commissioners Tuesday that the extra time it takes for drivers to help her get settled means she's cutting it close if she needs to catch a connecting bus at the next stop.

"I'm always having trouble making connections because it takes so long for them to strap me in," she said.

Harse was one of about a dozen bus riders who appeared before commissioners to talk about the cost-saving measures they are considering for next fiscal year.

One such measure is reducing the frequency of buses along U.S. 19, which would increase the wait time between buses from 30 minutes to 45 minutes. That move would save $43,580. Other proposals include getting rid of Saturday ($127,509) and holiday ($37,647) services, plus getting rid of Route 33 in Zephyrhills ($48,000).

Harse said the money Pasco would save was not worth the loss.

"I think what you're looking at here isn't going to be all that effective," she said.

Fred Rogers of Hudson told commissioners that he knew fellow U.S. 19 route riders who depended on the Saturday services to get to work — some of them to the second or third job they have had to pick up to make ends meet.

He had a petition with more than 60 signatures of riders against the proposed cuts of Saturday services. They couldn't make it to the meeting because they were at work, he said.

"I am so angry and so frustrated because of the problems I hear from these people," he said.

One man told commissioners that he was mentally ill, and riding the bus on Saturdays helped him avoid isolation by getting out to the mall and markets. Officials from Afire, an agency that serves the developmentally disabled, told commissioners the agency has been training the students how to ride the bus. And the 15-minute increase in waiting times between U.S. 19 buses would blow their already tight morning schedule.

Tuesday's hearing was the second one required before commissioners can schedule a vote on the transit service cuts. In Dade City earlier this month, about two dozen people showed up to protest the cuts, particularly the elimination of the Zephyrhills route.

Commissioners asked Mike Carroll, director of Pasco transit service, to analyze whether they could make up the costs by increasing bus fares, something for which some commissioners expressed support.

Officials also expressed reluctance to make the cuts, but noted the financial challenges facing the county.

"None of us wanted to do this," said Commissioner Michael Cox.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727)869-6247.

Riders ask Pasco commission to put brakes on bus cuts 08/25/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 25, 2009 8:05pm]
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