There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Monday, May 11, 2009

Going down the spiraling road of bus service cuts

Without a word of discussion, the Sacramento Regional Transit District board Monday evening unanimously approved a staff request to start the process required to cut bus service. Thirty-six weekday, Saturday and Sunday routes face reduction, realignment or elimination. The first round of bus service cuts could begin as soon as Sept. 6, followed by a second round Jan. 3, 2010.

The consent calendar item seeking board approval for the public hearing on the service cuts didn't even merit a separate vote.

This is the same board that couldn't find a majority to support charging suburban drive-and-park light rail commuters for parking, but it's unanimously in favor of discussing, and most likely approving, significant bus service cuts.

The first service cut hearing will be held June 8. On June 22, the board will be asked to adopt specific changes. At that June 22 meeting, the board will be asked to set a hearing for the January 2010 bus service cuts. That hearing would be held July 27 and the changes would go to the board for adoption on Aug. 24.

On July 10, the district would take the September changes to its union, the Amalgamated Transit Union. On Oct. 2, the January changes would be delivered to the ATU.

The first cuts would take effect Sept. 6 and the second round on Jan. 3.

(For specifics on the routes in danger go back to this post or read this staff report.)

The district doesn't want for customers, just money. At the board meeting, General Manager Mike Wiley announced that systemwide ridership was up 3.51 percent in March over March of last year, and light rail ridership was up 13.48 percent. The wet blanket was bus ridership, which increased over February but fell 5.05 percent below the heights of ridership last year in March.

Looking at 12-month rolling year comparisons -- April 2008 to March 2009 compared with April 2007 to March 2008 -- overall ridership is up 9.4 percent, rail is up 15.5 percent and bus ridership is 3.5 percent higher.

On average more people now ride the trains each month than take the bus, and that is significant for the district because it costs just $2.85 per passenger for train riders, while average cost for bus riders is $4.90.

Wily explained to the board that the increases in year-to-date ridership was likely to level out or even decline in coming months. Last year at this time was when gas prices started to shoot up and the Interstate 5 rebuilding disrupted normal commute patterns. RT even did a little marketing that Wiley credited with increasing ridership.

None of those incentives to ride transit exist today, and the two-edged sword of the economic downturn -- an incentive to save money by taking transit balanced against the loss of sales tax revenue caused by the weak economy -- is bleeding RT more than helping.

Here's the complete March 2009 Key Performance Report from tonight's agenda package.

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