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Mass transit taking different paths

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Bullitt riders upset over cutting route

By Alex Wimsatt

    LOUISVILLE - Jerome Vessels of Mount Washington has been riding the Transit Authority of River City’s Bullitt County Express to and from work for over 22 years.

    When he discovered that TARC officials were considering eliminating the route, he was in disbelief.

   “When I first heard about it, I thought it was just the worst case scenario. I didn’t think they would seriously consider it,” Vessels said. “I’m going to do whatever I can to save route 66X.”

    Vessels is not the only one committed to saving 66X. Many others are trying to get 66X taken off the chopping block and they’re making sure their voices are being heard.

    Roughly two dozen Bullitt County Express riders gathered at TARC headquarters in downtown Louisville for a public hearing to discuss service changes proposed by the transit authority’s board of directors. TARC faces a $5.5 million budget shortfall in the 2011 Fiscal Year, which begins on July 1.

    The board of directors proposed eliminating route 66X and 19 other routes, and making six routing changes and nine frequency reductions to save $5 million.

    TARC’s budget gap is a result of the $1.1 million shortfall from the 2010 Fiscal Year, losing $3.4 million of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, having to pay more for Certified Emission Reductions required by the federal government, and an increase of $708,000 in diesel fuel costs, according to Executive Director Barry Barker.

    Riders wielded signs reading, “Keep bus 66X” and “Bullitt County” in an effort to show TARC officials that they weren’t going to let their route go without a fight.

    During the two-hour hearing, 66X riders had an opportunity to speak with TARC officials about possible service changes and offered suggestions on ways to minimize impact.

    Barker said the board was listening to what riders had to say. He encouraged everyone to express frustrations and offer solutions.

    “Some of the best ideas I’ve heard have come from our riders,” Barker said.

    Mark Adams of TARC’s planning department, who stood at the route 66X table, said he received several good suggestions on how to save money while maintaining service.

    “I thought the hearing was very productive. We got some good comments and there was a good turnout,” Adams said. “The common theme was, ‘do not eliminate 66X.’ Most people were okay with fewer buses and changing routes, even paying higher rates, but they don’t want the route eliminated…It’s a very important issue to them.”

    Alice Harris of Mount Washington was one of the several 66X riders who spoke with Adams.

    Harris, who has been riding the bus to her job downtown at 6th and Liberty Streets for almost three years, said the elimination of 66X would affect the pocketbooks and livelihood of many people, including herself. She didn’t want to see the route go.

    “Fortunately my situation is that I can afford to drive if I need to, but some people can’t. What are they going to do?” Harris said. “I was shocked to hear that TARC was considering eliminating the route. I never dreamed they’d cut all three buses.”

    Jill Allen, 66X rider for the 20 years she’s worked downtown, said she was shocked to find out TARC had proposed eliminating the Bullitt County Express.

    Allen owns a 1997 Chevrolet S10 pickup truck. She worried about getting to and from work if she couldn’t take the bus.

    “How long is my car going to last? It’s 60 miles round trip to work,” She said. “I don’t know what I’ll do if the route’s eliminated. I’ll have to fill up my gas tank every three days. It wouldn’t be worth going to work after a while.”

    Allen attended the hearing to share her concerns. She hoped the turnout at the hearing would show TARC officials that people cared about their transit service and didn’t want it eliminated.

    Charlie Hinckley and his wife Deborah have been riding the Bullitt County Express for a year and a half to their downtown jobs. Both were committed to saving the route because so many people in the area were going to be hurt from Bullitt, Taylor, Nelson, Hardin and other counties.

    “It’s a regional issue, not just a Bullitt County issue,” Deborah Hinckley said.

    Pam Miles of Mount Washington rode 66X to her job downtown at Brown Forman for two years. She attended the hearing because she thought it would do some good. After the hearing ended, she didn’t think it made a difference.

    “They seem like they’ve already made their decision,” Miles said. “I don’t think they understand how many people they’re hurting.”

    Miles was also disappointed with the way the hearing was conducted. She expected a question and answer setting and more interaction with TARC officials rather than waiting in line to speak with someone at a table.

    “It seemed to us that they were saying here’s our decision,” she said, “Hopefully our turnout and concerns will make a difference.”

    Miles said she and others planned to lobby Fiscal Court for funding. When meeting attendees were asked if they thought the hearing was productive, no one raised a hand.

    Barker said he felt the hearing was productive, but he understood not everyone felt the same way.

    “They’re skeptical,” he said. “Folks think we’re just going through the motions with these things, but that’s not what we’re doing. We want to hear from our riders. The beauty of these hearings is that we can get their perspectives. We need their perspectives because sometimes theirs and ours don’t always reconcile.”

    Barker said it was difficult proposing service reductions because he understood the importance of public transit and the pain service reductions caused.

    “I spoke to a woman who told me she quit taking anxiety medication after she started riding the bus because she didn’t feel the stress she used to,” he said. “How can you put a price on that?”

    Barker still hoped a jobs bill from Congress could include public transit funding.

    Barker will be meeting with Rep. Baron Hill and Kentucky’s Congressional delegation on Capitol Hill this week advocating for more public transit funding by whatever means, according to TARC spokesperson Walfoort.

Bullitt County Judge/Executive Melanie Roberts was the only elected official attending the hearing.

Roberts was happy to see the Bullitt County presence.

    “I came to show the people of Bullitt County that I’m doing everything in my power to save route 66X,” she said.

     Roberts planned to ask Fiscal Court for funding.

    “Fiscal court has yet to provide any funding to the route,” she said. “Bullitt County is large enough that people need mass transit. It’s time that Fiscal Court sees this as progress and provide funding. We’ll see what happens.”

    For those who wish to find out more about TARC’s proposed service reductions and voice their opinions, there will be a public hearing in the Bullitt County Fiscal Courtroom on Thursday, March 18,  at 7 p.m. Those who wish to speak will be allowed up to three minutes. From 8-9 p.m. the public will have the opportunity to speak with TARC officials and ask questions. Barker, Walfoort, and service planner Joe Morneau will attend.

    The board of directors will be making a final decision on the proposed service changes on March 22 after reviewing comments and suggestions submitted to TARC, according to Walfoort.