LOWVILLE –– Lewis County Public Transportation is looking at a deficit of roughly $52,000 for 2014, according to preliminary estimates.
Sara Freda, planner with the Lewis County Department of Economic Development and Planning, spoke Thursday to the county Legislature’s Economic Development Committee about the overall ridership data for the county’s public transportation system.
So far this year, approximately 21,000 passengers have been estimated to use the transportation service, most of them Arc clients.
The county is reimbursed by the state according to mileage and ridership. The county received 40.5 cents per passenger and 69 cents per mile.
From 2009 to 2013, the county has received rider revenue of roughly $3,800. Mrs. Freda said the county was not required to subsidize the service. However, 2014 is a different story.
“It is estimated that we are going to be in arrears about $52,000,” Mrs. Freda said.
However, Mrs. Freda said, the county has been allocated about $90,000 in federal funds. The county is allocated these funds every year, but so far has not needed to dip into them.
The state Department of Transportation has been notified that the county will need the funds this year. Mrs. Freda said the county should hear from the state soon to find out how to obtain the money.
“When we designed the system and what we continue to say is that we are not going to cost the tax payers any money,” Mrs. Freda said.
Mrs. Freda also discussed the Schedule B: 2014 public transportation rates — the contracted rates the county is expected to pay Birnie Bus Service Inc. for the services it provides for the public transportation system under a transportation management agreement. Mrs. Freda said the rates were not stated in the contract, reached with Birnie last December.
“We provided Birnie Bus Lines with a brand new bus. How does that benefit us if we are paying them for millage and ridership?” said Legislator Craig P. Brennan, R-Carthage, after receiving the schedule. “I would like to see hard numbers. I don’t think it is that good a deal.”
Last year, two new buses were purchased by the county using grant funding from the Federal Non-Urbanized Area Public Transportation program and a state Department of Transportation grant. In December, the Legislature approved the third-party lease agreement with Birnie Bus to operate and maintain the county owned buses to be used as part of the Lewis County public transportation system.
Birnie Bus pays the insurance, maintenance fees, registration fees and fuel costs.
“It seems exorbitant to me (that) in addition we pay them daily for the milage,” Mr. Brennan said. “They got a big bonus with those two brand-new buses, if they were to have to buy them. They are not reciprocating or sharing that savings with us and that bothers me. It bothers me that we have put so much additional stakes in the game and have not seen a reciprocal from the Birnie Bus Lines.”
Economic Development Director Eric J. Virkler said the county has a public transportation system that “we simply just have to manage.” The county is not responsible for hiring bus drivers and doing maintenance. Mr. Virkler said the county is outsourcing the service.
“Are we paying them for that? Absolutely. Might we find other arraignments and better deals? Possibly,” Mr. Virkler said.
Mr. Virkler said it might be time to seek proposals to find out if there is a better deal. However, Mr. Virkler said the county could not sustain the system without the Birnie Bus partnership.
“I think we can add additional services and contract with others, but if we take that Birnie-Arc relationship apart, we will not be able to provide public transportation unless we provide it out of taxpayer funds,” Mr. Virkler said. “The system will not sustain itself. We do not have thousands of people riding every day, like in downtown Syracuse.”