January 29, 2014
Agency calls for bus service support
There is a movement afoot among Access to Independence officials to encourage the city and county to invest in the public transportation system relied on by the public.
Chad Underwood, Access to Independence’s chief operating officer, said Monday the agency is starting a public awareness campaign intended to stress the importance of the county’s First Transit bus system, known as Cortland Transit.
The system is facing about a 40 percent funding cut, which equates to about $450,000 lost yearly, after Medicaid changed the way it assigns rides in October.
Since then, the has state used state-approved brokerage firms instead of handling the routes locally. The company has not recovered from the loss of ridership, which instead is now directed to local taxi companies, say officials.
The state has not indicated it will change direction, said Underwood, so he is urging local support for the system. He mentioned specifically the possibility of the city and county dedicating excess sales tax revenue to help save the system.
But City Mayor Brian Tobin said sales tax revenue is used to fund crucial services and he stressed that under the renegotiated agreement in 2012 the city’s share is continuing to decrease as costs go up. Tobin added that the term “excess” in regards to sales tax is debatable, since the revenue always comes in more than what is budgeted because the city always budgets prudently.
He said the public transportation system is something that should be dealt with on the county level because of the number of municipalities the bus system serves.
County Legislature Chair Susan Briggs could not be reached for comment.
County legislators last year briefly discussed the idea of imposing an extra mortgage tax to help fund the system but the idea never received enough support to come up for a vote.
Underwood wants to not only save the system but encourage enough of a response to expand it to weekend and weeknight service.
“The system we have now is not adequate,” said Underwood. He said the bus system running from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday is woefully inadequate and harms the local economy. The buses serve people both with and without disabilities, he said, impacting their ability to go shopping, get to appointments or work.
Underwood decried the city and county for not funding a system that provides a crucial service to residents.
“Any other community that has any public transit at all, they have a buy-in from the city governments and county governments,” Underwood said.
County Planning Department Director Dan Dineen, who has pushed for SUNY Cortland and Tompkins Cortland Community College sponsorship of the bus system, said Monday it is too early to say whether those entities are amenable to the idea.
But, he said, if Cortland Transit is not able to continue in the county and has to be replaced, any public transportation would require funding.
“We would have to put out the public transportation system to bid again to see what kind of responses we get,” said Dineen.
Cortland Transit would have to send a letter to the county 30 days prior to leaving, said Underwood.
The media office for First Transit did not return phone calls for comment by press time this morning.
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