Midlands transit officials to call for deep bus service cuts

COLUMBIA, S.C.(WACH) - Midlands transit authorities are expected to recommend deep service cuts this week to keep the region's embattled bus system operating.

The Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority currently has a $1.1 million shortfall. And additional $2.5 million shortfall for fiscal year 2013 goes into effect in October.

In a memo obtained by WACH Fox News, CMRTA executive director Robert Schneider writes the "

CMRTA must plan its future with only the consistent funding mechanisms available, rather than continuing existing service with hopes that funds might come available."

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At Wednesday's CMRTA board meeting Schneider is set to propose a roughly 40 percent reduction in bus service to offset the current budget shortfalls that would reflect a $3.6 million removal of on-street services and nearly 60,000 service hours for the region over the next 17 months.

The cuts would impact countless riders in various industries who rely on the bus system as their only means of transportation.

The possible service cuts would include service stoppages on Sundays, reduction of Saturday services, Monday-Friday service would stop at 7pm on most routes, and the elimination of three routes. Other cuts are also included in the plan and, if approved, would be implemented on April 30.

The introduction of a one-day unlimited ride pass is also being suggested to help increase ridership. The proposed pass would cost a rider $3.50.

The cash-strapped bus system has struggled to find a permanent funding source while both Columbia and Richland County leaders have given it quarterly infusions of cash to keep the buses rolling.

In 2010, a penny sales tax referendum was put on the ballot to help pay for the transit system. Richland County voters narrowly defeated the measure. Local leaders are talking about putting a similar proposal on the ballot again this November.

A group known as Citizens Against the Tax Increase, or CATI, strongly opposed the measure in 2010, and has also voiced its opposition to the measure appearing on the ballot again. They argue because the entire penny wouldn't be used to fund the system the proposal would be ineffective and point out Midlands leaders could funnel millions to the transit system through increased revenues from property tax hikes, franchise fees and water and sewer rates.