Cathy Dyson writes about King George County.
FRED bus nears end of line in King George
Few people who ride the FRED bus in King George County are as understanding about the impending end of service as Carolyn Dudley.
She’s 63, has two part-time jobs, but doesn’t have a car and never had a driver’s license. (An instructor once told her some people weren’t meant to drive—and she was one of them.)
She lives in Dahlgren and takes the FREDericksburg Regional Transit’s K1 bus throughout the county, as well as around Fredericksburg, where she shops thrift stores for bargains.
She’s ridden the bus since it started its King George route in April 2005 and will thoroughly miss the service when it ends Fridayjune 29.
“I do understand the county is forking up a lot of money for not many people riding it,” Dudley said. “It’ll be a loss, but when you count the people it really affects, it’s not that many.”
Other riders who spoke with The Free Lance–Star this week weren’t nearly as charitable. They said the King George Board of Supervisors’ decision to end the service in the rural county will impact seniors going to doctors’ appointments and younger people with jobs.
“This is our only transportation to work, to grocery stores,” said Annette Foster, a 39-year-old mother. “A lot of people are going to lose their jobs. I could see if there wasn’t a lot of people on the bus, but there are. That’s why I don’t understand why they’re taking it away from King George.”
As is often the case in this recessed economy, it’s all about the money.
King George supervisors started talking about the cost, compared to the number of riders, three years ago. Supervisor Dale Sisson Jr. wondered if an urban transit system was financially feasible in a rural setting.
Fellow Supervisor Joe Grzeika said he seldom saw many passengers on the bus. He said he also never got a clear picture about usage because FRED counts the number of trips taken, not individual riders.
For example, a rider going to the grocery store and back would be counted as two trips.
Using its formula, FRED reported that King George County had 1,479 trips in February 2012, a 5.4 percent increase from February 2011.
In 2009, the county was paying $180,000 for two bus routes. Supervisors decided to drop the Fairview Beach line, which lowered the annual cost to $120,000.
Board members said that was still too much.
For fiscal year 2012, FRED officials agreed to provide 12 hours of service, five days a week, for $100,000. FRED officials later said the service couldn’t continue at that price, so the county decided to end it altogether.
STUCK WITHOUT A CAR
Even though supervisors already had made the decision to cut the service, federal law said they had to hold a public hearing.
That happened in April, and residents presented petitions signed by more than 400 people. Riders, such as Morris Tyler, said a lot of residents, especially the elderly, would be hurting without the bus.
Daniel Edge, a social worker, told supervisors that everyone doesn’t own a car, and, “Here in King George, if you don’t own a car, you are pretty much stuck.”
Supervisor Ruby Brabo referred to notes from a December 2011 meeting of the Regional Human Services Transportation Coordinating Committee, a group formed to look at transportation options in the rural counties of Caroline and King George. Those present included Arnold Levine, FRED’s senior adviser, and representatives of groups for the elderly and disabled.
During that 2011 meeting, Levine said the cost of providing FRED service to Caroline and King George was high.
When asked about regular riders in each county, Levine said “there are 20 people in Caroline who regularly ride FRED, and King George has roughly 2 to 3 times that number,” according to the minutes.
Brabo quoted those statistics at the April public hearing to an audience of FRED supporters.
Given what the county was spending “to provide transportation for 60 people, we could buy them all a car,” Brabo told the audience.
This week, Carla Brown, 59, scoffed at the suggestion the King George bus doesn’t attract enough riders. She takes FRED from Dahlgren to Fredericksburg, where she’s an assistant manager with a cleaning company.
“Usually, on the way back, the bus is pretty full. Today is really slow,” said Brown, one of eight riders between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Tuesday.
Tyler Creekmore, 20, rides the FRED bus from his home off Lafayette Boulevard in Spotsylvania County to his job at the Kentucky Fried Chicken in Dahlgren.
It takes him almost two hours to get to work and costs $1.50 each way. He said he has tried to find work closer to home, but he’s been at the King George KFC for five years and likes it there.
He is on the bus at least four days a week. “Sometimes, there are up to 10 people on the bus, other times it’s only one person like me,” he said.
All the riders interviewed said they wished the county had come up with another option before ending FRED. Supervisors also hoped to have something in place, and Sisson has been working with county officials on possible alternatives.
The county recently put out a request for information to see if any companies would be willing to provide public transportation in the county. King George got two responses, said County Administrator Travis Quesenberry. Supervisors will discuss those options on Tuesday, three days before the FRED bus stops running in King George.