In a recent state audit Metro was encouraged to figure out why ridership has plummeted over the past few years. We have been able to identify a big reason (cutting bus routes) and Laurence Simon has been able to explain other reasons (lack of reliable service on bus routes, lack of well-thought-out bus routes, lack of customer service, sticky train floors -- ewwww!).
Today Rad Sallee reports on Metro's new budget for next year which includes...cutting three percent of bus routes.
There is no mention of cutting back on the proposed rail extensions and (don't say Bus) Rapid Transit. Only on the flexible, yet much-maligned buses. Metro, of course, calls all these route cuts and changes "improvements," but those who rely on Metro's bus service have a different take:
Some of Metro's critics accuse the agency of building rail and catering to commuters while shortchanging those who depend on local buses to get to work, the doctor or the grocery store.
"They promised 50 percent more bus routes, but they don't say that. They just say the people voted for rail," said bus rider Mark Smith.
"Metro could have crisscrossed the county with buses for what it will cost to build the rail system."
Then there's Terrence Wilson, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle accident 24 years ago. Wilson, 49, depends on Metro buses and his motorized wheelchair to get around.
Because many streets in his Acres Homes neighborhood lack sidewalks, Metro built a concrete slab on the shoulder for his wheelchair, he said. But over the years, his regular bus was replaced with a circulating shuttle, and then Metro shortened that route. It no longer passes his home, and Wilson said he now rides his chair in the street for a risky 1 1/2 miles to reach the bus stop.
Other highlights of Metro's new budget include more layoffs, rising fuel prices and increased health care costs. Sallee's story doesn't mention a deficit and the budget is not yet available online. Maybe Metro has taken care of last year's first-ever revenue shortfall.
Metro would help itself tremendously by ending the honor system for fare payment on the light rail, by being honest about light rail ridership (count actual paid ridership, not boardings), by instituting a fare increase in all transit services, and by increasing bus service 50 percent like it promised it would do, instead of continuing to cut bus service.
UPDATE: That Rad Sallee is a guy who can get things done. Metro has now posted its 2006 budget on its website. If you've got the time (a LOT of time -- it's very long), take a peek at it.