HRT cuts are on the right track

Published 7:58 pm Saturday, March 26, 2011

As an entity that takes local public money, Hampton Roads Transit has just as much responsibility as any local government or other regional agency to ensure it is providing the best return on the dollars it receives.

In recent years, that hasn’t happened. Philip A. Shucet, president and chief executive officer of HRT, admitted in a board meeting Thursday that the transportation concern had never completed an efficiency study — or, at least, never completed one that was actually implemented.

But they did one in the last six months. And what they found was hardly surprising — none of the routes has the average ridership to pay for itself, but some do better than others.

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Consistently among the five worst in the entire system are routes 73 and 74 in Suffolk, HRT says. Experts have proposed eliminating those routes, which would cut out bus access to several lower-income housing neighborhoods and large employers.

In most other cities in the system, the money that will be saved by cutting trips and routes will be reinvested in the system’s best-performing routes so that the buses can run every 15 minutes on those routes. The HRT experts say they will gain more riders on the best routes than they will lose on the ones slated for elimination.

But that doesn’t appease Suffolk Councilman Charles Brown, who is rightly concerned with how his constituents will get to work without bus access. He wondered if HRT should do another study on why people don’t ride the bus in Suffolk.

The money saved by eliminating two of Suffolk’s routes, however, won’t go to improve the other two. They also don’t have enough ridership to justify improvement, HRT says. That money will be credited directly back to the city.

HRT is doing the right thing by considering the hard choice of eliminating its costliest routes. It’s also doing the right thing by suggesting that if they are accepted, the proposals should go into effect in January, giving people who depend on the buses nine months to make other arrangements.

A vote on the proposals will be held in May. Public hearings will be held in the fall — we hope, in the same area the eliminated routes will affect, rather than at HRT’s headquarters in Norfolk. That way, bus riders won’t have to rely on the chronically late system to make their voice heard.