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Hernando THE Bus service cuts would hurt its riders

I bet you've played this driving game, the one where you peer through the tinted windows of county buses and count heads: two or three, usually, and rarely more than a half-dozen.

That's got to be expensive, you think, and it is. The actual cost of each $1 fare on the THE Bus is $8.50, most of it federal and county tax money.

No surprise, then, that county Commissioner Jeff Stabins has suggested cutting bus service from five to four days a week. Nor that, at a commission meeting Tuesday, activist Janey Baldwin and others called for the entire system to be scrapped.

"To continue with this farce is ridiculous,'' Baldwin said.

I've thought the same thing, and often have wondered, as many have, whether a bus system can ever work in a county where our schools, houses, offices and stores are scattered so widely.

But, then, I had never even set foot inside a county bus, never seen what one looked like from inside. So on Monday afternoon I caught the eastbound bus to Brooksville on State Road 50, across from the Hernando Times office.

My first impression was good. The bus was clean, on time and rolled briskly toward its destination. It would be a shame to dismantle a service that seems to work, I thought, especially because the federal government paid the nearly $1.5-million in startup costs.

Of course, it also seemed a shame that this bus carried only two passengers. But they both said they needed public transportation — to get to stores, doctor's appointments and, especially, work.

Jeffrey Osborne, 42, of Brooksville lost his license after a drunken driving conviction. If bus service is cut to four days, he said, it will leave him scrambling to get to his job with a Spring Hill lawn service.

"I'll just have to pray I can get a ride,'' he said.

Is that what we really want? We gladly pay for libraries, schools and parks. As a Hernando Times editorial pointed out Sunday, the county's annual share of extending basic transportation to all residents — $690,000 — is a bargain.

That is especially true when you compare it with the expense of road building — $54-million, for example, for the planned widening of the 3.8-mile stretch of SR 50 east of U.S. 19.

Rather than paving the way for 22 vehicles — the number of seats on a county bus — wouldn't it make more sense to use just one — or try to? One set of exhaust pipes, one space on our crowded roads?

Shouldn't this be considered smarter, more civilized?

Two passengers I met on the return trip from Brooksville thought so.

Donald Redlefsen, 78, returning from a shopping trip in Brooksville to his home on Sam C Road, was outraged to learn that bus service might be cut. "That's insane!'' he said. "What are they trying to do, turn us into a Third World country?''

Melinda Bullough, 59, of Spring Hill has a car and a license, but commutes by bus to her job as a secretary in Brooksville. The $15 monthly pass is cheaper than buying gas, she said. Also, she just likes riding the bus.

She associates it with Chicago, where she grew up, and London, where she lived for 12 years.

"In those places, it was normal to ride a bus. Here, they treat you like a second-class citizen,'' she said. "I don't know why.''

I don't either.

Hernando THE Bus service cuts would hurt its riders 03/05/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 5, 2008 6:37pm]

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