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Cuts loom if Mahoning County voters reject bus levy, WRTA chief says



Published: Sun, October 14, 2012 @ 12:05 a.m.

SEE ALSO: Tuberculosis and children’s agencies seek levy renewals in Mahoning County

By Ashley Luthern

aluthern@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

A five-year 0.25-percent sales tax renewal in Mahoning County is needed to keep the Western Reserve Transit Authority fully operational, officials say.

Without renewal, all services will be cut, said Jim Ferraro, executive director of WRTA.

WRTA collected $4.2 million in 2009, $6.9 million in 2010 and $7.5 million in 2011 in sales tax, which makes up about 70 percent of the transit authority’s funding. The remaining amount is generated by fare-box revenues and federal grants.

The 0.25-percent sales tax was first approved in 2008, and WRTA has until the fall of 2013 to get it renewed. The renewal appears as Issue 3 on the Nov. 6 ballot.

“It’s being safe,” Ferraro said of putting the renewal on the ballot early.

“... If it’s approved, we’ll spend the year preparing for changes. There are routes that we’re not really pleased with and we want to make more productive,” he said.

Ferraro said there’s been a growth in the use of EasyGO that provides door-to-door service with small buses and vans throughout the county. The service was a campaign promise when WRTA first put the sales tax on the ballot.

“We take people from Sebring to Victoria Road” in Austintown, he said. “We think we kept most of our promises, but I think we can still do better.”

Director of Transportation Tom Nugen said buses run from 5:40 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Six routes have night service that begin at 7:15 p.m., but night service is not available on Saturday.

Nugen said riders have asked about expanded weekend service, but Ferraro pointed out that the sales-tax renewal “is not additional money.”

“It’s a struggle because we want to keep fares at a point where it’s affordable — 60 to 75 cents, $1 or a little more,” Ferraro said.

Fare for an adult is $1.25, 60 cents for seniors and 75 cents for students.

Marianne Vaughn, WRTA finance director, said the challenge is facing rising costs.

“Our budget keeps creeping up. In 2010, it was $8.5 million. Two years later, it’s $10.7 million. The cost of fuel and insurance keeps increasing, as are maintenance costs,” she said.

Ferraro said WRTA must keep large coach buses at least 12 years under federal guidelines.

“We’re trying to retire buses when it costs more to repair them than purchase new,” he said.

Like many public entities, the majority of WRTA’s budget, about 68.3 percent, goes to labor costs. The transit authority employs about 100 people, which includes about 60 bus drivers, Ferraro said.

Bus drivers have a starting wage of $11.70 an hour, taking five years to reach their full pay of $19 an hour, and receive health benefits, he said.


Comments

1bmanresident(597 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

Such a shame to see all those giant empty coach buses driving around. Also maybe if they cleaned up the downtown terminal and kick out the "pests" that roam it's halls, ridership may increase.

Or just raise the bus fares so the Entitlement Class can pay for something for once.

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2UnionForever(1470 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

Vote NO on the levy. The buses run empty or near empty most of the time and paying a .25% sales tax to fund then is ludicrous. This is all about pay raises for those empty bus drivers and all the administrators who live off this levy. We don't need this un-needed tax. No in November.

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3NoBS(1940 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

Ferraro isn't fooling anyone - the issue is back on the ballot a full year early because it was the pro-Obama voters who carried it. He's counting on that same group supporting him again.

And "all services will be cut?" Really? What did they do before their windfall tax levy? Buses still rode around - mostly empty - and they can do it again. I'll bet the WRTA has never picked up a single passenger on its trip along Sharrott Road, for just one example of the waste that goes on.

Ferraro says he's mandated by federal guidelines to keep those large buses 12 years. Why did he buy them in the first place??? And what OTHER federal and other funding does the WRTA receive? Ferraro has never come clean on where every cent of income comes from.

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4city_resident(513 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

Vote YES on issue 3!

The buses I ride are almost always 1/2 to 3/4 full. (except on weekends) If this sales tax isn't renewed, most of those people who depend on the WRTA to: go to work, go to school, go to the doctor, go shopping, or to the grocery store, will be stuck.

Plans are in the works to clean up the downtown terminal.

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5city_resident(513 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

NoBS, before 2008, WRTA was funded by city property taxes. When the sales tax was passed, WRTA became a county entity, and the property tax was replaced by the sales tax.

As I pointed out in my previous post, WRTA bought the large buses because they need them. (It doesn't happen often, but I've seen buses with standing room only) Some are due for retirement. Maybe the newer buses will be smaller, so they can run those on the less-used routes? (whatever they are)

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6biteme(38 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

Funny how crime increased in Boardman when this levy passed first time. Haven't heard how their bus drivers or administrators have taken any kind of wage freezes, had their insurance increased and they still make $19/hr.
I don't think police, fire or teachers make that much an hour. Seem to remember reading an article where new firemen in Boardman make $8.
Vote F-NO on this levy!!

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7busyman(239 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

Vote no!! Here we go again. While 90% of society works, pays taxes, follows the rules, we fund those services for the do nothings, that have lost the privilege to have a valid drivers license because of DWI, failure to pay violations, neglecting the laws of the land, screwing up their lives with drugs and just taking all they can from the great society without batting an eye. I am not talking about the part of society that has been afflicted with a disability or agedness; they have other means of transportation that is supplied by local governments. And do not forget, after they pay $100 a month for cell phone service, $125 cable TV/internet Premium service and do not forget low end $100 a month for cigarettes, how can they buy/lease a car and purchase the required insurance coverage. It is easy to ride the doll bus. If the tax fails, why not raise the fares and see what will happen?

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8city_resident(513 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

" I am not talking about the part of society that has been afflicted with a disability or agedness; they have other means of transportation that is supplied by local governments."

WRTA is that means of transportation, locally!!!

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9lee(544 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

$19 bucks an hr. I vote NO . I wish my I could stay in business only making 30% of my cost and getting everyone else to give me money to run on . It don't work that way in the real world

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10UticaShale(854 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

If we give them housing, heat, foodcard, electric, foodbanks, medical and even a cell phone......we must also give them a free ride literally.

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11dmacker(277 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

Don't take my word for it. See for yourself how many riders are on the next WRTA bus you see anywhere. I have never seen a bus with over a couple of passengers and most are completely empty. The only time I've seen more riders was when they filmed the tv comercial at Walmart and those people only rode across the parking lot. We could get by cheaper by paying cab fare for those who need transport and still save money over a couple of riders on one of those big gas guzzling buses. But then where would the WRTA drivers find another job paying $19 per hour?

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12city_resident(513 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

@ thethinker, is 2010 the most recent stat available? Are you sure that 2010 wasn't an anomalous year? Do you know that WRTA buys fuel in bulk with other local fleets, and so isn't subject to the daily fluctuations of fuel prices?

@ dmacker, It costs me about $6.50 to take a taxi from home to downtown. I'm usually one of the last passengers picked up in the morning, on my way to work; there are usually about 15-20 other passengers on the bus when I get on. I take a different route on the way home, and I'm usually one of the first to get off. Also, that bus is usually much more crowded. You do the math. Are you sure cab fare would be cheaper?

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13southsidedave(4780 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

People make me laugh...you think the busses bring crime and poverty to your neighborhood?

Most of the people that ride busses must do so to earn a living.

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14RickA(4 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

It amazes me how negatively the ridership of the WRTA buses is portrayed by many of the Vindy commentors. I can only surmise that these commentors don't ever ride the bus and are speaking from ignorance. Perhaps some enlightenment is needed.

I do ride the bus, frequently. It's my most-used means of getting to work and I've used it occasionally to get to doctor appointments and stores. I've been riding for almost 5 years. I am a professional that works Downtown. I ride by choice. Three routes are within a few minute walk of my house and they go where I need to go and when I need to go. As such, it makes no sense to garage, maintain, insure, and fuel a vehicle, let alone produce pollution, just to get to work.

I have ridden several of the WRTA routes. Sometimes they are full of people. Sometimes they only have a few. It varies with the time of day, day of the week, season, or the location of the bus within its route, it seems. Or, maybe there's no real pattern to it and it just vaires. It's wrong, though, to characterize the buses as always being empty.

The people I see riding the bus are about as varied as the community as a whole. I see people on their way to work at North Side Hospital and stores and restaurants on Belmont Avenue. I see YSU students on their way to class in the morning. I see high school kids riding and transferring to other routes to get to school in other parts of town. I see seniors and families going grocery shopping. I occasionally see other professionals and even some of my neighbors and co-workers. Many of the people that use the service do so because they have no other alternative. Some use it by choice. The former are probably least able to shoulder the burden of higher fares.

The WRTA service is an integral part of the daily life of our community, as is public transit in any municipality of size and signficance. A reduction of services is equivalent to a reduction of employment and educational opportunities for many...you can't go if you can't get there. A reduction of services also means further logistical complications for many in our community that already have very difficult daily lives. There is no real up-side to defeating this sales tax renewal. WRTA is worthy of our support. Vote YES to renew the WRTA sales tax.

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