Out of service

Published 9:48 pm Thursday, March 24, 2011

Franklin Turner gets off a Hampton Roads Transit bus at the Cherry Street transfer station in downtown Suffolk last July. HRT officials have proposed a variety of route changes system-wide, including eliminating two routes in Suffolk.

HRT plan could cut two Suffolk bus routes

Hampton Roads Transit administrators on Thursday proposed eliminating two of Suffolk’s four bus routes because of low ridership.

The proposals came after a six-month study of the area’s 70 routes. In all, five routes are proposed for elimination, and other routes throughout the area could see reductions in the number of times per day the bus runs.

“The point of this study is to root out inefficiencies,” said Philip A. Shucet, president and chief executive officer of HRT.

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Suffolk’s routes 73 and 74 are proposed for elimination. Both are consistently in the bottom five in ridership numbers, said Ray Amoruso, chief planning and development officer for HRT.

Route 73 serves Constance Road, Magnolia Gardens Apartments, Suburban, Wilroy and Progress roads, QVC, Nansemond Parkway, the Magnolia Park-n-Ride lot and East Washington Street.

Route 74 takes a winding path throughout downtown that includes White Marsh Plaza and Cypress Park, Dill and Carolina roads and the Lake Kennedy neighborhood.

Suffolk contributed $453,000 to HRT in the current fiscal year for the service. If the two routes are eliminated, the city will receive a $272,000 credit in the coming fiscal year. Amoruso said that would likely pay for the remaining two routes.

System-wide, the proposed changes are expected to save about $4.2 million. Of that, $2.2 million would be reinvested in better-performing routes, and $2 million would be credited to the individual cities that participate.

The study looked at average data collected over an entire year on number of riders, average subsidy per rider and farebox collections. Some routes had as few as five riders per hour and a subsidy as high as $15 per rider.

“Whether you carry one person or 30, it costs $73 an hour to operate a bus,” Amoruso said, combining the driver’s wages, fuel, maintenance and administrative costs. “If you only have one person, it’s very inefficient.”

Suffolk Vice Mayor Charles Brown, who along with Councilman Curtis Milteer represents Suffolk on the board, said he thought the efficiency study was “the right thing to do” but was not happy with its recommendations.

“We need to do other studies on why they’re inefficient,” he said. “Why are the people not riding? Did we do our jobs to educate people about the opportunities of the buses?”

Brown said he was concerned about people who need the public transit system to get to jobs, doctors’ appointments and other necessary destinations.

“I wonder how many jobs you’re going to help eliminate,” Brown said. “I just think you have a half-report. I’d like to see a full report.”

Shucet responded that more people throughout Hampton Roads would be able to access public transportation thanks to improvements on higher-performing routes. In other Hampton Roads cities, the money saved by eliminating lower-performing routes would be used to add circuits to higher-performing routes, but that won’t happen in Suffolk because none of the routes has enough riders to justify improving them, Amoruso said.

“I understand the implications,” Shucet said. “We know that four out of five of our riders don’t have any other options.”

HRT administrators will meet with city staff from each of the seven cities throughout April. A vote on the proposals will be taken in May. Public hearings will be held in the fall. The approved changes would take effect in January.

For more information about Hampton Roads Transit’s routes, visit www.gohrt.com.