City looks into other transit options

Published 11:41 pm Thursday, April 21, 2011

HRT: Suffolk has proposed ending the existing Hampton Roads Transit service at the end of the year in favor of a cheaper alternative. The transit system already has proposed eliminating half the routes because very few people ride them.

“Can I get a ride?”

That’s the question one speaker in a two-hour public hearing posed to each member of City Council on Wednesday night.

She and several others were concerned about the proposed elimination of the Hampton Roads Transit bus service.

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City administrators have proposed cutting the bus service at the end of the year to save about $300,000. Very few citizens ride the buses, they said.

“Every time I see a bus, there’s the driver and the ghost,” Councilman Charles Parr said.

The transit service already has proposed eliminating two low-performing routes to save money. If the budget passes as is, the other two along with the MAX route would also be eliminated.

It was one of the most frequent topics in a public hearing Wednesday night where more than 43 people spoke.

The city paid more than $786,000 in the current fiscal year for the service. The proposed budget would slash that figure to $488,000 — enough to pay for only half the year.

But city administrators don’t plan to eliminate public transportation entirely, they said. Investigation into other potential providers — including iRide, a Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia program that’s open to everyone — is ongoing, City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn said.

“Something’s not working efficiently and effectively,” Vice Mayor Charles Brown said. “It should be our job, as leaders in power, to find something that works better.”

City leaders are working with HRT to get the data from a recent ridership study. They also will contact doctors, shopping centers and other essential destinations to get an idea of how frequently their patrons ride the bus.

Cuffee-Glenn said neighboring localities to the west also are looking into alternative services.

“It’s obvious that HRT is as inefficient as we’ll probably get,” Councilman Michael Duman said. “It seems to be a no-brainer.”

Any other service would require public funding, Cuffee-Glenn said.

“There will be a local contribution, but it will not be as much as we have today,” she said, adding there is money left in the budget to fund another option after the beginning of the year.

Councilman Leroy Bennett said he wants the northern area of the city to be included in the new service. Mayor Linda T. Johnson said that’s one of the best things about the new plan.

“This is an opportunity to expand to parts of the city that have absolutely nothing now,” she said.