August 29, 2014

Elyria
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Transit cuts pose huge challenge to its users

ELYRIA — Don’t tell Susan Lilly or Charlissa Martin that the county can eliminate Lorain County Transit bus routes on Dec. 31 without hurting blue-collar workers.

Lilly, 46, of Lorain, typically takes six buses a day to get to her job making football helmets at Riddell Sports Group Inc. in Elyria.

She’s laid off now but is hoping to go back to her $7.50-an-hour job that has benefits.

If the county budget crisis knocks out all of the fixed bus routes by the end of the year, then Lilly might have to try to find a job closer to her home near Southview High School.

“I’m very upset about what I read in the paper about Transit cuts,” Lilly said. “I’m very ticked off.”

As for Martin, she rides the bus from Elyria to get to her kitchen job at a nursing home in Lorain.

“This is awful, terrible,” said Martin, 39. “How are we going to get to work? I don’t have a car, and I depend on Lorain County Transit.”

Unless an outside funding source is found, the fixed route runs of Lorain County Transit simply have to go, according to Lorain County Administrator James Cordes.

About $6.5 million in cuts this year are becoming permanent in the wake of a sales tax defeat last month and another $2 million to $4 million in cuts will have to take place next year, Cordes said.

When asked if the county could seek a levy to continue Transit services, Cordes said, “I’m not sure at this point whether we can seek any tax with success.”

Cordes said the commissioners had warned that Transit could be among the first county services cut if voters rejected the sales tax, but bus riders were still shocked at a transfer station at Griswold and West River Road.

Every hour, dozens of people — including seniors, students at Lorain County Community College, youngsters going to alternative schools and people on public assistance — get on and off the buses to get to where they need to go.

Chris Carter, 31, of Grafton, said lack of transportation could bring more crime.

“We’re going to do what it takes to take care of our kids,” Carter said. “It’s a terrible thing if we can’t get to work or get welfare benefits.”

Transit driver Teresa Schmidt told frantic riders to call county commissioners Ted Kalo, Lori Kokoski and Betty Blair at 329-5000 to voice concerns.

Many people picked up the phone to complain, according to Kalo.

“The phones at my store and commissioner’s office have been ringing off the hook,” Kalo said. “There were 27 calls at my office.”

Some 50 to 60 First Transit employees drive and maintain the county buses, according to Kalo.

Another First Transit driver, Paul Ruiz, said, “Without us, there’s going to be more crime on the streets.”

He said most of the youngsters at Life Skills Center of Elyria, where the transfer station is, ride the Transit buses to school.

“Without us, they’ll be in the streets — they’ll never go to school,” Ruiz said. “I picked up five prisoners the other day and what about people with DUIs?”

Cordes said he didn’t blame bus drivers for being upset, saying it’s tough to lose a job.

Schmidt said she just hopes something can be done, saying she has driven Transit buses for nine years and cares for her riders.

“This is not right,” Schmidt said. “Plus, this is how I feed my kids.”

The offices of U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Copley Township, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, were working hard on the problem Wednesday afternoon and evening, according to office staffers.

Transit riders are expected to attend today’s meeting of the county commissioners, which begins at 9:30 a.m. at the Lorain County Administration building at Middle Avenue and Third Street.

Without help, the 13 new buses the county purchased earlier this year with $712,000 in federal stimulus money will be mothballed, according to Cordes.

The county’s share to operate Transit is about $500,000 — or about a tenth of the costs offset by federal and state assistance and fares — but the county just doesn’t have the relatively small portion of its share, Cordes said.

Transit is one of the few areas of discretionary spending that commissioners can cut in the wake of voters rejecting a
0.5 percent sales tax hike last month, Cordes said.

He said commissioners also will consider slashing economic development, funding for the airport, soil and water conservation efforts and county assistance to extension services, among other areas not mandated by law.

Asked if sheriff road patrols were in jeopardy, Cordes said, “We’re looking at everything.”

Cordes said Lorain County might be able to retain LCT’s Dial-A-Ride service, but the service is only available for the disabled and some seniors. He expects a proposal soon from Cincinnati-based First Transit Inc. on the cost of continuing to operate Dial-A-Ride.

The county also plans to end its relationship with Greyhound, which means Dec. 31 will be the last time the bus line stops outside LCT’s Third Street offices in Elyria.

Transit employees answering the phones said they were flooded with calls.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.