Tuesday, March 18, 2014

LeeTran service cuts creating hardships and causing ridership decline


BikeWalkLee and SWFL Council of the Blind continue to urge the Lee County Commission to restore the LeeTran service cutbacks that went into effect in November, which are causing hardship for riders and ridership declines.

As part of the 2013-14 budget process, the Lee County Board cut LeeTran evening and weekend services effectively in half, extending intervals between buses to as long as two hours.  These service cutbacks were intended to save $500,000 in LeeTran’s budget; however, the county lost an equal amount of matching grant funds and is now losing ridership (which means fare revenues are down), so the “savings” is actually costing the county money.

 BikeWalkLee, along with the Southwest Florida Council of the Blind, Center for Independent Living Gulf Coast, and many individual citizens who rely on transit services, opposed the cuts at the September public hearings and have continued to speak out about the hardships these cutbacks are causing for transit users in our community.  

 Ridership numbers are down
Since the cutbacks went into effect in mid-November, ridership numbers have fallen for the first time in years, after several years of record-breaking increases in ridership.  In January (compared to previous Jan.), ridership was down 8.5% and again in Feb., ridership was down 2.1% (compared to previous Feb.).    While LeeTran has provided no analysis as to the causes of the ridership declines, BikeWalkLee believes that the service cutbacks are a significant factor, both directly and indirectly, as our overall transit system is now perceived as less reliable as a way to get to work or meet other transportation needs. Compared to this time last year, Lee County's employment and population numbers are up and the tourism season is one of the best on record, all indicating that absent the LeeTran service cuts,  ridership numbers should have increased above last year's numbers, not declined.
Two hour intervals between buses is simply not a viable mode of transportation for many riders.  Research shows that the functional viability of any transit system hinges on two primary qualities: 1) punctuality or reliability; and 2) the waiting time between buses (or headway time).  The enormous headway extensions after 6 p.m. and on Saturdays caused by the LeeTran service cutbacks have weakened the entire transit system.   The longer these service cutbacks are in place, the more damage is being done to the long-term viability of our transit system.

BikeWalkLee and SWFL Council for the Blind urge restoring $500,000 now

In December, BikeWalkLee asked the Board to restore the $500,000 cuts as soon as possible, and reiterated that request again in its March 13th letter to BoCC: " If the BoCC considers spending any of this $12.3 million now [unanticipated unspent funds in FY 2013], it would be essential that you restore the $500,000 LeeTran cut.  This cut has resulted in bus services after 6 p.m. being greatly curtailed, risking the long-term viability of our transit system. " 

At the March 18th BoCC meeting, during open public comment period at the end of the meeting, the President (Mary Ann Alexander) and four other representatives from the SWFL Council of the Blind (A BWL supporter organization)  urged the Board to restore the $500,000 cut in LeeTran.  Each of the 5 speakers made the case in personal terms re: the importance of both regular transit and paratransit services for the blind if they are to lead independent lives.  The speakers thanked the board for saving the 2 routes that were on the chopping block last year and urged them to restore the $500 K.  Chairman Kiker thanked the Council of the Blind for being on top of the budget in the early stages and for helping the Board make its budget decisions for next year.  See News-Press 3/19/14 story (last paragraph).

 Previous blog stories on LeeTran cuts:

 September 12, 2013:BikeWalkLee urges Lee County Commissioners to reject proposed transit service cuts 

 November 12, 2013:  LeeTran service cuts start November 14th--Here's impact by bus route

  March 13th letter to BoCC: Comments on LCEC franchise fee public hearing item for  3/18 BoCC mtg

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