BROOKSVILLE — If Hernando County decides to park THE Bus, there will be a price to pay.
The County Commission has been talking since last year about the future of the county's mass transit system and whether, with its limited ridership, it should survive these tight budget times.
Commissioners on Tuesday learned the results of a recent ridership survey, which found, among other details, that about one-third of the trips on THE bus were for people coming and going to work, that bus ridership was highest among lower-income residents and that 84 percent of those who ride do it because they cannot drive.
They also learned that if they decided to curtail THE Bus and made up for needed door-to-door trips using van service, the county could take a $250,000 hit the first year for vehicle purchases and operating expenses.
"It isn't a savings'' in the first year, Dennis Dix, the county's transportation coordinator, told commissioners.
The survey showed that loyal bus riders actually wanted to see an increase in service, including weekend buses, service in the evenings and more frequent service.
County staffers and the consultant that conducted the survey said that the county's bus service is so minimal now, the only way to add more riders — who ride because they want to and not because they need to — is to expand services.
When Commissioner Dave Russell asked if money was available to provide more services, Dix said no.
Currently, for every dollar spent by the county, the county receives $2.30 worth of revenue from state and federal sources to run the bus service.
THE Bus operator, Michael Georgini, told commissioners that, with the price of gas rising, he expected ridership to improve.
Georgini also said that he believes THE Bus is the most efficient form of mass transportation the county offers.
Several regular bus riders also urged commissioners to spare their main means of transportation.
"We do need it,'' said Roberta Schmiz.
Commissioners were not poised to make any decision Tuesday, but Commissioner Jeff Stabins asked the riders who came forward whether they would be willing to pay a little more to keep THE Bus, and each said they would.
Commissioner Rose Rocco said she wants the county to explore raising some money by advertising on the sides of buses, and she also wondered whether routes could be tweaked to land the buses in more areas with larger concentrations of people, such as shopping centers and hospitals.
Dix said he would explore the advertising idea. As for adjusting routes, he said, "Transit systems are always a work in progress.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.