Sunday, January 5, 2003

Butler transit agency seeks role

Authority hasn't disbanded itself yet

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - The Butler County Transit Authority is winding down its operations, but the embattled agency isn't ready to hit the road just yet.

Since voters rejected its transit sales tax increase in November, the Transit Authority has laid off 43 of 48 employees and has pulled all its buses off the streets.

But before it disbands and gives up its 46 vehicles and its $2 million building in Hamilton Enterprise Park, the agency plans to talk with community leaders during the next month to find out if there's still some type of transportation service it could provide.

"We're mothballing everything for now," said Carla Lakatos, executive director of the Transit Authority. "We'll seek input from the community and see what direction they want us to take."

The community would derive no financial benefit from the sale of the Transit Authority's assets because federal and state funds paid for almost 99 percent of the building and the buses.

The proceeds from any sale of these assets would go to the federal and state governments, Ms. Lakatos said.

Once the Transit Authority disbands and gives up its assets, it would be difficult to start a new public transit system again, she said.

An alternative to disbanding would be for the Transit Authority to retain its county designation, remain eligible for state and federal funds, and offer some limited form of public transportation.

Ms. Lakatos said during the sales tax campaign that she heard a lot of people say the county needs public transportation, but that the Transit Authority's model for providing it was inefficient.

With federal, state and local funding, she said, it might be possible for the agency to provide some type of commuter service to certain locales inside and outside Butler County, or to revive an on-demand, curb-to-curb service for the elderly and the disabled, similar to its old Dial-A-Ride program.

The Transit Authority had relied heavily on fixed bus routes instead of point-to-point service. This strategy drew criticism from Commissioners Mike Fox and Chuck Furmon and other critics of the transit system. Mr. Fox and Mr. Furmon also wanted the agency to use a voucher system that would allow residents to choose their own transportation provider, but the Transit Authority Board balked at this idea.

"There was a bias on the board toward building a big-city sort of transit system," Mr. Fox said. "This county doesn't lend itself to that. It doesn't have the population densities they have in large cities."


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