Cathy Dyson writes about King George County.
Options for public transportation hit a dead end
King George officials hoped to provide other options for residents when it stopped funding the FRED bus system, but it looks like they’ve hit a dead end.
On Tuesday, the board heard a proposal from a third private agency to provide a bus system in the rural county. Like two other private options offered in June, the third would cost almost twice as much as King George paid for its last year of service with the FREDericksburg Regional Transit system.
“This latest attempt shows that providing transportation in a rural community is a fiscal challenge, and it’s not one that we can take on,” said Supervisor Dale Sisson Jr. “My suggestion is that we’re done.”
That suggestion is quite different from the one supervisors had in March 2011, when the board decided to cut the FRED funding after three years of back-and-forth discussions.
Chairman Cedell Brooks Jr., a longtime supporter of public transportation, didn’t want to leave people without wheels and asked the county to look into other services.
Supervisors agreed and formed a committee to see what costs might be. Tim Smith, director of the King George Department of Parks and Recreation, gave several presentations, including Tuesday’s report that a business wanted $196,560 a year to provide 60 hours of bus service a week.
King George paid FRED $100,000 for its final year of service. FRED buses ran in the county from 2005 to June 29, 2012.
All the quotes Smith got had the same financial setup: the county subsidizes the cost, while riders pay 50 cents to $1 per trip.
That’s not the kind of operation the supervisors wanted.
“I think it’s extremely unfortunate that they’re expecting the county to pick up the bulk of the expense,” said Supervisor Ruby Brabo.
Three years ago, when the recessed economy started tightening county purse strings, supervisors started to question how many residents rode the bus.
Supervisors said ridership numbers provided by FRED told how many trips were taken by residents, but not how many people were on the bus. Supervisor Joe Grzeika in particular said he believed the county was paying a high price—reportedly as much as $8 a trip—for a service that benefited a small segment of the population.
When the county solicited requests from private agencies, officials hoped businesses would put more of the financial burden on riders.
FRED bus riders interviewed by The Free Lance–Star in June also indicated they’d be willing to pay more than 75 cents per trip.
But the transportation businesses—at least the ones that submitted bids—don’t operate that way, Smith said. They all pass the bulk of the financial burden to the locality.