Even as their colleagues in Los Angeles County forge ahead with plans to add services despite a projected $2-billion operating deficit over the next decade, Orange County transit officials Monday announced another -- and probably not the last -- cut to bus service to offset a $36-million shortfall.
The cut, which will be the third in seven months, is in addition to a January fare increase aimed at generating an additional $3 million annually.
“The goal here is to reduce services over the whole system with as minimal an impact” as possible to riders, said Joel Zlotnik, a spokesman for the Orange County Transportation Authority.
The budget shortfall is primarily due to the state’s cut in funding the Transit Assistance Fund and a drop in sales tax revenues, which help pay for transportation programs.
All told, 133,000 annual bus-service hours, or about 7%, will be cut. About 28,000 hours were cut in December, 50,000 hours this week, and 55,000 hours are planned to be cut in June.
Since the cost of operating for one bus-service hour is $81, the agency estimates it will save about $11 million annually, Zlotnik said.
Although no bus lines have been eliminated, timetable or route modifications for 26 of 80 lines will go into effect by the first week of June. The cuts will result in shortened routes, fewer stops and longer waits between buses.
Officials warn that these cuts are unlikely to be the last as revenue continues to deteriorate.
“They’re going to continue [to cut] for a couple years, evidently. It’s going to escalate,” said Patrick Kelly, a spokesman for Teamsters Local 952, which represents bus drivers. “There doesn’t seem to be a consensus in support of bus drivers or bus riders on the board right now. I think that may change as people see the buses get crowded and people won’t be able to catch the buses frequently.”
Transit officials, however, said bus ridership has gone down since last year. In January it was down 7% over the previous year, and in February it was down 14%, Zlotnik said.
OCTA board members also have asked drivers to consider deferring their 4% wage increase due in April, he said, adding that OCTA’s administrative staff will not receive salary increases or bonuses in the next fiscal year because of the worsening economy.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials plan to add the Silver Line, an express bus line on the 10 and 110 freeways between Artesia and El Monte, in June, said spokesman Marc Littman. And in the next couple of weeks, MTA officials will look at a bus-improvement plan that may include service expansions over the next few years.
Although the MTA budget this year is balanced, the agency had to use reserves, and its staff projects an eventual shortfall that will reach more than $2 billion over the next decade, Littman said.
“We already had a severe operating deficit . . . that situation hasn’t gone away,” he said. “It’s one thing that’s hanging over our heads. You can build all these new systems, but . . . how are you going to operate it? The problem hasn’t gone away.”
For a complete list of service changes announced by the Orange County Transportation Authority, see The Times’ website.