Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Transportation

Hernando County politics a boon for Citrus County bus system

Citrus County's transit system recently cut the ribbon on handsome new headquarters, complete with an outdoor shelter, an indoor lounge, public restrooms and a bus garage.

It will add to the comfort and convenience of current riders, said Lon Frye, the county's transportation services director.

And being a new, nice-looking building at a highly visible intersection in the middle of the county, it will surely attract new riders.

Okay, but it sounds like a luxury. Where did a county with less demand for public transit than Hernando get the money — $2.2 million — at a time when public spending has been pared down to necessities?

Well, we gave it to them.

Kind of, anyway.

You may remember that in 2009 the Hernando County Commission unanimously rejected a $1.5 million federal grant to replace five of the county's aging buses.

The commission's excuse — that it didn't want to be locked into providing a decade of bus service — wasn't much of an excuse at all.

A consultant explained that the grant did not require 10 years of busing. It just stated that the county get full use out of the buses or pay back some of the original cost — an expense that likely would have been covered by selling the used buses.

What the federal government does require, the consultant said, is transportation for disabled residents. Bus service is by far the cheapest way to accomplish this, and the county therefore was pretty much stuck with mass transit whether it liked it or not.

One other thing: Rejecting the grant forced the county to refurbish its old buses, using $225,000 that otherwise could have kept more buses on the roads and, maybe, prevented the system from hemorrhaging ridership, the start of which can be traced to this same meeting.

To cut costs, commissioners voted to increase waiting times (since shortened again) between buses from one hour to two.

So there was no economic reason for turning down this money. Just a political one: pressure from small-government fanatics who hate the bus system and absolutely loathed the source of this grant, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

It clearly was not, as commission Chairman David Russell said in 2009, "a great day for Hernando County."

But it did turn out to be a good one for Citrus.

A regional mass transit fund suddenly became flush with Hernando's rejected cash. That's the same fund that, you guessed it, paid for Citrus's new transit center.

One lesson here is that no matter how you feel about the federal government, turning down its money is less likely to mean saving cash than just losing out on your share.

The bigger lesson, with an example so obvious I don't think it needs mentioning, is that this tea party stuff is destructive nonsense.

For some reason, Citrus's county commissioners — all of them Republicans — seem to realize this, seem to be relatively free of the automatic, unthinking hatred of public investment. They are proud of the county's bus system, recently named the best in rural Florida, and its new, deluxe transit center.

"It's been overwhelmingly accepted as a future investment in our transportation infrastructure," Frye said.

Brooksville, Tallahassee, Washington: Why can't you be more like Inverness?

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