TRUMBULL COUNTY Bus riders, group discuss transit system finances

Some rates and service hours are changing effective March 1.
NILES -- "NTTS is my life," Mary Jane Schempe told a group assembled for breakfast Friday. "It keeps me functioning as an old lady!"
Schempe, of Niles, was among those attending the Niles Trumbull Transit System advisory committee's quarterly meeting to express their views on the pending fare increases for the demand-responsive bus service.
Schempe rides the buses to get dialysis several times a week and to go to the Niles Senior Center. She suggested that system officials examine more small ways to economize, such as using more efficient scheduling and putting their foot down on wasted trips due to uncanceled reservations.
Another woman suggested that the officials look at funding in other communities for ideas to increase financial support. For example, she said, Ashtabula's transit system gets financing from the area Agency on Aging. Committee member Mark Hess reported they are contacting the city of Springfield to see how it handles a similar transit system.
Reduced hours
One measure to save money will begin March 1 when NTTS trims the service hours slightly on holidays and weekends. The new hours will be from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., cutting two hours from the day. This change was developed after an examination of the ridership in the past year, said Niles Mayor Ralph Infante. Weekday hours of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. will remain the same.
However, the system still needs to increase fares if it is going to stay alive, officials insist.
The NTTS is primarily supported with funds from the Federal Transit Authority and money from the participating communities, although revenue from fares also is needed. The committee also is seeking grants, like the Job Access and Reverse Commute grant, whose purpose is to develop transportation for welfare recipients and low-income individuals to and from jobs.
Fewer riders
Part of the financial crunch can be attributed to significantly fewer riders than what was expected when the system began. In the first year about 20,000 people received one-way rides; 50,000 had been projected.
But 20,000 people is no drop in the bucket and the system is very popular, even in the nonparticipating communities. Katherine Baltes of Community Bus Services said during her operations report that 44 percent of the riders are from participating communities and 53 percent are not.
Second only to the number of trips from Niles in the third quarter of 2004, she said, are the 1,445 trips to and from Warren. The city of Warren does not contribute to the system's fund.
"We need Warren," Infante said.
Increase would hurt
Sheldon Funk of Weathersfield explained how a fare increase will limit his community service. He said he is legally blind and volunteers at the Red Cross every day, depending on NTTS to get him there and back home.
"It's a shame Weathersfield has withdrawn," he said, because as someone from a nonparticipating community, he faces such a large fare increase in March. He will have to cut his volunteer time as a result, he said.