April 17, 2014

Elyria
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Transit routes slashed: Only 2 to remain

ELYRIA — Lorain County Transit bus service will be drastically scaled back starting Monday.

The county commissioners approved the cuts Monday, which will eliminate all but four fixed routes, largely serving only Elyria and Lorain.

The remaining four routes are being combined into two fixed routes that will run buses every two hours instead of the current hourly runs by the buses, said LCT Director Richard Enty.


View Lorain County Transit Fixed Routes in a larger map

The cuts also will eliminate Saturday service — Sunday service was eliminated during an earlier round of cuts last year — and scale back the hours LCT operates to between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

A limited version of Transit’s Dial-A-Ride service will also survive.

“I don’t believe we have any other choice but to accept this proposal,” Commissioner Betty Blair said before Monday’s vote.

The commissioners had been threatening to all but shutter LCT following the failure of a 0.5 percentage point sales tax hike that voters shot down at the polls in November, which the commissioners argue has left a gaping hole in the budget that can be closed only by imposing cuts and reducing or eliminating nonmandated services such as transit.

The plan to entirely shut down transit was shelved in December after the county received unused transportation money from federal stimulus programs totaling $293,153.

That money, combined with $100,000 kicked in by the commissioners, was enough to keep at least some of the buses rolling.

In recent years, the commissioners had given $500,000 to transit, but most of the public transportation agency’s money comes from federal and state grants, many of which must be matched by funds from the county.

Enty said that last year LCT had a budget of about $5 million. This year the budget is $1.5 million.

The county has avoided or reduced service cuts twice before in recent years with one-time cash infusions.

Monday’s decision will leave many riders without a means of getting to work or medical appointments.

LCT rider Brian Shawver, 38, of Lorain, complained that the commissioners were cutting service even as fares increase from $2.05 to $2.20.

“I don’t see how people can cut the routes and raise the prices,” Shawver said. “It’s a mess.”
During the meeting, the commissioners rejected calls to raise fares even more, arguing that transit riders couldn’t afford it.

“You’d have to increase the fares so much that the people wouldn’t be able to use it,” Commissioner Lori Kokoski said.

The cuts will also mean 32 out of 41 bus drivers will lose their jobs, said Sandie Perry, general manager of First Transit Inc., which operates LCT’s buses. There will also be cutbacks among the 14 mechanics and administrative staff members, she said, but the exact number of job cuts in those departments hasn’t been determined yet.

Ann “Ami” Hess, who has spent six years behind the wheel of LCT buses, said she worries about her family and home after she loses her job, but also the riders who depend on transit to get from place to place.

“I’m a driver and I love my job, and to see this happen to these people just tears me apart,” Hess said.

She and her fellow drivers won’t be the only ones out of work, Hess said.

“We’re going to lose our jobs, but people who ride our buses to work are going to lose their jobs,” she said.

Enty said the county is still looking for ways to get additional funding and officials plan to ask the various municipalities serviced by LCT to kick in money to help pay for expanding operations.

“I’m hoping this is a temporary suspension of service and we’ll be able to find some additional local dollars,” he said.

County Administrator Jim Cordes said if transit had been shuttered completely, there wouldn’t be any chance to get additional funding from the Federal Transportation Administration.

“The only bright spot is we’re still in the transit game,” Cordes said.

Chronicle intern Alicia Smith contributed to this story.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.