City bus riders who’ve been without service to portions of Beaumont are getting a little reprieve now that city officials have decided on the addition of a new route.
After City Manager Kyle Hayes recommended the addition at the Beaumont City Council’s Nov. 6 meeting, the council merged routes and removed a small “tripper” bus that runs mostly on weekends in order to keep the route changes revenue neutral, not raising the city’s operating cost.
The route changes, which followed a public hearing Tuesday, Nov. 6, required no council vote.
The route changes will provide service to most businesses on College, west of Fourth Street, who previously had minimal bus service. Also buses will provide Beaumont’s West End with new service to North Major and the Social Security office there.
Citizens have long complained to City Council that no buses went to the new Social Security office on Dishman Road as well as the HEB Plus on Dowlen.
To mitigate the problem, council was close to deciding on a route at last week’s Oct. 30 council meeting, but Councilman Audwin Samuel asked the council to consider a second route change after he met with city bus drivers on the council’s off week, Oct. 23.
Councilman Samuel said the route changes will take effect Jan. 1, 2013, and are much better than the original proposed additional route.
“It allows for multiple transfers rather than having to get on at the main station (downtown) and then ride back there in order to take a route back out,” he said. “So it adds a little more convenience.”
Councilman Mike Getz, a long-time advocate for amended transit routes, says while he’s happy council has finally taken up amending the city’s bus routes, the costs to operate the system are unsustainable.
“There’s still a lot of inefficient things about the bus system,” he said. “But by eliminating a route that was almost always empty, the Saturday ‘day tripper’ to Parkdale Mall, we are bringing service to an area of Beaumont that has been without service. That’s a good thing.”
For months, many on council, including Getz, have warned the city may not be able to sustain the current transit system. As the federal government’s share of the system is going down, the city’s share is going up. The city currently spends about $2.5 million annually to the federal government’s $3 million.
According to transit director Bill Munson, the city’s share of the cost is increasing by about $20,000 to $30,000 a year.
“I would look at eliminating nighttime service,” Getz said as a means to control the transit system’s cost to the city. “I think that as Beaumont’s subsidy continues to increase and the federal governments portion that they contribute continues to decrease, we’re going to have to continue to look at ways to try to keep this service provided to our citizens from a practical financial standpoint.”
Getz said the city’s ridership isn’t what it used to be after the 2010 census revealed about 1,000 people use Beaumont’s transit system.
“If that is in fact a realistic number and we’re spending close to $5 million a year, then we have to ask ourselves (if) there other alternatives that we can do other than basically contributing what amounts to $5,000 a person to provide transportation.”
The city also raised the adult fare from $1.25 to $1.50 to comply with federal mandates requiring that reduced fares for seniors and the disabled be half that of the adult fare, keeping the discounted fare at 75 cents.