City looks to charge residents who use bus services

Transportation commissioners continue to examine ways to save money before a funding surplus is exhausted, and small fees for bus services for seniors and the disabled are among the possibilities.

Officials say services like BurbankBus, BurbankBus Senior & Disabled Transit and Got Wheels!, which was retained only for the summer months, rely heavily on sales tax revenue that has steadily declined during the economic downturn.

“We don't have the surplus we had in previous years in the Proposition A fund,” Transportation Commission Chairman Paul Dyson said. “It’s sales-tax-based and varies depending on the economy.”

He estimated that by spring 2013, the surplus will be wiped out.

“The fund goes into the red,” Dyson said. “The City Council would have to decide if they should supplement from the General Fund to keep it at its present level.”

For the Proposition A fund, of which Got Wheels!, a bus service for students, and the senior bus line are a part, revenues are estimated at $2.1 million, well below expenditures of $2.4 million, according to information presented at Monday's commission meeting.

Commissioners have taken the first steps of looking for savings so the surplus will last longer, while examining alternative sources of income, including bus ads and small but mandatory payments for seniors and the disabled, Dyson said.

This fiscal year, the Proposition C fund, of which the fixed route service is part of, is estimated to have $1.6 million in expenditures, slightly more than the $1.5 million in anticipated revenues.

The surplus in the Proposition C fund is expected to last three to four years, Dyson said.

Got Wheels! saw its popularity wane with most students using the bus to and from school, which officials said was not how the funding was to be used.

The City Council will decide if the program will be eliminated.

The fixed route was reorganized last year, including the elimination of the downtown circulator route.

When the possibility of trimming senior and disabled services came up last spring, many bus riders spoke out at City Hall, prompting the City Council to task the Transportation Commission with finding other alternatives to keep operations in the black.

From July to December, about 44,000 seniors and disabled people used the appointment-based service, which runs daily. It’s the oldest-running bus service in the city, said David Kriske, senior transportation planner.

There is less demand for the service on the weekends, he noted, when it’s used mostly for religious and social events.

Commissioner Chris Haitz said at the meeting that a mandatory payment, even if minor, should be considered for the senior and disabled service, which is now on a donation system.

Donations are suggested at 50 cents for a one-way ride and $1 round trip.

Haitz said he empathized with those who depend on the service, but said someone could criticize the city for absorbing the cost for a personal trip to a religious event on the weekend.

“There's some amount of truth in that,” Dyson said. “They could take an extreme view that we are mixing church and state.”

There was still information to be gathered for the next commission meeting, including how essential trips are, and why they are taken, although most seem to be for medical reasons, Dyson added.

“If we cut one bus or one driver, would people not be able to go? Do they wait longer? It may be something we may have to do,” he said.

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