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Calaveras Supervisors Ready To Get Off Bus

With two clear supporters and two clear opponents, the Calaveras transit system lies in the hands of Supervisor Victoria Erickson.

Calaveras supervisors reviewed a six-month transit report Monday to allow board newcomer Erickson a chance to become familiar with the program.

Supervisor Merita Callaway and Lucy Thein are strong supporters of the system while Supervisors Tom Tryon and Paul Stein are staunch opponents.

Erickson, who will cast the deciding vote, said she is skeptical of the “flashy marketing” in the report. She would rather see raw numbers than “fancy presentations,” she said.

Her concern, she said, is spending $800,000 to $900,000 for 200 or 300 people to be able to ride the bus. She added the report is unclear on specifically how many individuals use the system since the report shows trips taken. Meaning an individual could ride the bus all day and potentially take 10 trips.

Erickson said she would look at the raw numbers and do so quickly as supervisors are set to consider the transit budget in April.

The Council of Governments, of which Erickson and Supervisor Paul Stein are council members, gave its stamp of approval to the transit budget Wednesday. However, Erickson and Stein did not support it.

Erickson could not be reached at press time.

The proposed transit budget for fiscal year 2004/2004 is $730,927. Last year´s budget was $746,156.

The budget anticipates supervisors will keep the bus system and choose Alternative A of three alternatives offered in the Short Range Transit Plan.

Alternative A includes new service to Rail Road Flat, flexible access to the government center in San Andreas, a new 7:57 p.m. departure from Columbia College, one to three added round trips per community, easier travel by timed connections among county routes, and timed connection in Lodi to connecting routes.

Alternative A is the “logical” choice because alternatives B and C really “build on A,” COG Executive Director George Dondero said.

Dondero is also asking supervisors to set aside $37,000 of this year´s budget to pay for half of a new 22-passenger bus in 2005/2006.

“Opportunities for grant funding of new vehicles have been exhausted,” a staff memo said.

The transit system “has been a controversy on this board for sometime,” Stein said. “You come in as a new board member and you don´t want to just cancel a program,” he said.

Since the inception of the system, supervisors have paid much attention to the fare-box recovery ratio, which mandates that county transportation systems recover 10 percent of their annual expenditures through passenger fares.

The report shows the recovery ratio is at 12 percent.

But Stein said revenue from charters and advertising skews the recovery ratio and fails to represent actual ridership.

“We just keep piling on huge loses,” Supervisor Tom Tryon said.

Jim Moore, transportation consultant, said 1955 was the last time public transit operated at a break-even pace in the United States. The cost of running a transit system is not just a Calaveras challenge but is an “inherent characteristic of public transit,” Moore said.

Callaway and Thein both said they would continue to support the system.

Thein said somebody told her if the transit system is a waste of taxpayers money, then it´s a better waste of money then other things the board has supported. And she agreed.

Calaveras Enterprise story by Vanessa Turner. For more Calaveras news, click: calaverasenterprise.com