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   20140901MetroCastweb

FRED bus service to end in July

Fredericksburg is discontinuing bus service in King George this summer. The King George Board of Supervisors were informed last July that Fredericksburg would eliminate FREDericksburg Regional Transit (FRED) service in the county George beginning July 1 because they said county funding cutbacks from two routes to one last July 2011 made it no longer viable for the city to operate beyond the end of this coming June.

At that time, Supervisors Dale Sisson and Cedell Brooks had recently finished working with FRED officials to eliminate one route and redesign the remaining route, still at a hefty annual cost to the county.

Supervisors cut the county’s outlay for FRED in each of the last two budget cycles resulting in service reductions. Following a public hearing in mid-April 2011, the board voted to eliminate one of the two routes operating in King George and redesign the remaining route. That cut the county’s contribution to FRED from last fiscal year’s

funding of $132,093 down to $100,000 in the current year.

Calculations by Sisson had indicated that the previous year’s funding and the number of “trips” it paid for resulted in the county subsidizing each ride by adding about $8.25 to the 50-cent fare paid by riders at the time. As of last July, FRED finally raised its fare to 75-cents per ride.

But it seems that the cost for the county to subsidize each ride in King George could be much higher.

King George is not the only area locality paying a big price in tax payer dollars for a very few number of people to get mass transit. Last fall, with continued urging by King George, a group was formed to come up with rural transit alternatives to assist King George and Caroline in serving their rural residents with transportation needs as an alternative to FRED transit.

The group is called the Regional Human Services Transportation Coordinating Committee (RHSTCC). The members of the RHSTCC group at a meeting on Nov. 8, 2011, included Rappahannock Area Agency on Aging (RAAA), Rappahannock Area Community Services Board (RACSB), Wisdom Ride, Inc., Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services (DRS), Brain Injury Services, and Arnold Levine, representing FRED. 

It’s unclear who provided the information, but the minutes say that regarding Caroline and King George’s costs to continue the transit service, “FRED calculated that each county is subsidizing FRED at about $20 per ride.”  

The terms, “ride,” “trip,” and “ridership” are often used interchangeably, which causes confusion in concluding the number of people who actually use the FRED transit bus service. Those who keep an eye on FRED buses rarely notice that they have any passengers riding in King George.

PRESS RELEASE
This week a press statement was released by Kathy Beck telling about the planned discontinuation of service. Beck is the director of public transit for FRED.
The actual release is headlined, “FRED transit to eliminate all service in King George County effective July 1, 2012.”

But the announcement on their website, <rideFRED.com>, instead is headlined, “King George County decides to terminate FRED service at the end of June.”
The wording may signify the same fact – that FRED bus service will no longer be available in King George on and after July 1 – but it does not convey the degree of reluctance and anguish that went into the decision by members of the county Board of Supervisors to make the previous cuts in FRED service, that are now resulting in FRED considering current funding coming from the county to be inadequate going forward. 

When FRED service was initiated several years ago in King George, it was mostly paid for with grant funding. But as grant funding has diminished, county costs escalated. Supervisors Sisson and Cedell Brooks met with FRED officials prior to each cut for redesigns of the route system and changes in the run times to eliminate some of the empty bus runs and to streamline costs.  

OBJECTIONS TO CONFUSING RELEASE
A draft release had been provided last week by Beck to county administrator Travis Quesenberry. The release stated some confusing information regarding trips, mixing in wording about ridership.

Quesenberry emailed it on to members of the Board of Supervisors, with a couple of Supervisors objecting to the tone and the wording. Supervisors Ruby Brabo and Joe Grzeika voiced their objections in emails back to Quesenberry, which were shared with Beck.
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Beck went forward this week with the wording in her release, with one concession that was to add the parenthetical section at the end of this following paragraph of the release:  
“Ridership peaked in the County in 2008 when 20,662 trips were taken on the K1 and K2.  The number of trips declined to 19,487 in 2009; to 16,025 in 2010 with the initial reduction in service; and rebounded slightly to 16,897 in 2011 even in the face of the elimination of all service on the K2 in September.  (Under Federal and State reporting requirements, “trips” are the standard measure of transit system usage.  A ‘trip’ is generated each time a passenger boards a FRED bus; the number of trips does not represent the number of individual citizens using FRED.)”

Grzeika had responded, saying, “I think the ridership numbers are misleading to the average person and are really misinformation the way they get represented, I also do not see the need that even be in the release. If they stay in the release I would want us to develop a release that clarifies what they are and dispels any idea we have a system that is working and we are just pulling out. It is not serving anywhere near enough for the money we are investing, it is not FRED’s fault or ours, a suburban/urban approach to mass transit is not an efficient or effective method to employ in a rural setting.”

Brabo responded to the draft release forwarded by Quesenberry, saying, “Based on how FRED calculates its ridership numbers, I feel this press release portrays a skewed version of how many residents have utilized the service and will actually be impacted by the elimination of service. 

“Since the press release is coming from them, not sure if we can request they either amend the figures to depict true ridership or at least annotate how they arrived at their ridership numbers.  Possibly we could request they simply state the number of regular riders they referenced in the minutes I have attached.”

Brabo referred to the same minutes of the RHSTCC meeting of Nov. 8, 2011, noted above, adding to her note, “From the minutes: 20 regular riders in Caroline County equate to  6-7 thousand in terms of their ridership.  King George has 2.5 - 3 times that. That means we have roughly 60 regular riders and that better explains to the citizens why the County cannot continue to invest in the FRED service.”

Supervisors know that the current $100,000 only buys an unknown number of round trips for an estimated total of 50-60 people who each ride a varying number of times per year.

NEED MASSES FOR MASS TRANSIT
King George Supervisors have tried but so far failed to make mass transit affordable to taxpayers in a rural county. Alternatives are continuing to be explored, but so far no solution is evident.
Public hearings by both FRED and King George will be scheduled and advertised on the issue to take comment on discontinuing service in the county.

(The complete FRED press statement and the Nov. 8, 2011 minutes of the Regional Human Services Transportation Coordinating Committee meeting can be found by pressing here and here)

Phyllis Cook

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