The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

January 12, 2013

ACTS Saturday routes in jeopardy

Star Beacon

JEFFERSON — Commissioners plan to hold a public meeting in Ashtabula Township to receive comments on a plan to eliminate Saturday bus routes provided by the Ashtabula County Transportation System (ACTS).

The board on Friday morning met with Patrick Arcaro, executive director of the Ashtabula County Department of Job and Family Services (ACDJFS), and Susan Stoneman, manager of the ACTS program, to determine the least-disruptive way to cut $150,000 in ACTS spending this year. The cuts must be made because the local match money has declined, along with federal and Ohio Department of Transportation funding.

The local match sources include in-kind services provided by the City of Ashtabula, Community Development Block Grant funding and fares.

Concurrently, the board is facing an increase in the hourly rate charged by MV to run the system. The rate, $60.40 in 2012, went to $62.95 this year. The ACDJFS typically contracts for about 19,000 hours of service annually.

The county is in year four of a five-year agreement with MV. That agreement stipulated the increase in the hourly rate, which covers the cost of labor, benefits, fuel and repairs. The board and MV enter into a new contract each year of the agreement, but thus far have not signed a contract for 2013, pending comments from a public hearing on the proposal.

The system needs to get down to around 17,000 service hours in 2013 to stay within funding. Arcaro said that eliminating the two Ashtabula routes on Saturdays would be the least disruptive way to make up for the loss in funding.

Susan Stoneman, project manager for ACTS, said the system provided 4,865 rides on the A, or “uptown,” route on Saturdays in 2012. The B, or “Harbor,” route, had 3,694 riders.

Smith pointed out that completely eliminating Saturday ACTS service would help reduce overhead costs at MV’s operation’s center in Ashtabula and thereby save additional money.

While weekday use of the system is often for medical appointments and transportation to employment, Saturday riders are more likely to be heading to retailers in Ashtabula and Saybrook townships. Despite benefiting from the service, the townships do not contribute toward the ACTS local match.

Commissioners want to hold a public meeting in Ashtabula Township so the voices of trustees and business owners can be combined with those of riders who will be affected by eliminating the Saturday services. The board also will listen to suggestions on where cuts can be made elsewhere in ACTS.

No date has been set for the meeting, but commissioners want to hold it as soon as possible.

“I just want to make sure everybody is aware of this,” said Commissioner Dan Claypool. “I want to set up a meeting very quickly to discuss it with both (boards of trustees) and the city, so they see what the ramifications will be.”

Stoneman said a public hearing, followed by a 30-day comment period, is required any time a change in services is proposed.

When asked if the board supports cutting Saturdays as the solution, Carlo said, “I don’t like it, but I guess we got to move forward with it.”