Pasco County quickly and correctly righted the direction of its bus service at a time more people are relying on mass transportation. • Monday, county administrators said the proposed 2009 budget called for cutting the number of buses along U.S. 19, the most popular route on the Pasco County Public Transportation system. The route from State Road 52 in Bayonet Point to the Pinellas County line is expected to account for 417,000 passenger rides next year, or one-third of the system's ridership.
In a down economy and with the price of a gallon of regular gasoline hovering near $4, this was the wrong idea at the wrong time.
Tuesday afternoon, County Administrator John Gallagher said the misguided idea had been scrubbed. It is a wise move considering that just three months ago Pasco's transit consultants unveiled a 10-year plan to enhance service.
The 10-year plan focuses most of the long-term improvements in west Pasco, where the county operates six routes. In this less affluent, but densely populated area, ridership is booming. The changes are supposed to include running buses more frequently and later into the evening and adding Sunday service and an express bus on U.S. 19.
Instead, legal advertisements published this week indicated the county wanted to cut the service on U.S. 19, where buses run every half-hour. To eliminate two driver positions and to save $64,000, the county proposed to reduce the bus frequency to every 45 minutes, effectively running four buses, instead of six, every three hours.
Some might have tried to rationalize this as simply a minor inconvenience, but consider the population that relies on mass transit in Pasco. Three out of four riders do not drive or do not have an automobile available to them, according to a recent passenger survey. More than half said they used the bus to get to work or school, and nearly 40 percent traveled to shop, run errands or go to a medical office. A reliable mass-transit service is not a luxury in west Pasco. It is a way of life for people of modest means to travel.
It is understood that commissioners and their staff face difficult choices in balancing a proposed budget that represents a 19 percent spending cut, includes no salary increases for employees, freezes jobs and eliminates 22 additional positions that are now vacant.
But Gallagher and his staff are smart to look elsewhere to save $64,000 before diminishing the quality of the mass transit for a populace that needs it most.