By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Rider concerns about possible elimination of bus routes in Butler and Clermont counties have been increasing, despite officials' assurances that no final decisions have been made.
On Friday, however, Metro officials cautioned that if funding from both Clermont and Butler counties is not secured, routes in these areas could be eliminated by April 6.
"No one wants to see these services end," said Paul Jablonski, CEO and general manager of Metro.
"It is our hope that a funding solution can be found," he said.
Metro operates express and mid-day service in both counties, serving more than 200,000 commuters annually.
Population shifts registered in the 2000 Census prompted a change in Metro's service area and funding. As a result, Clermont and Butler counties are now included in Metro's "urban" zone. These counties are eligible for federal transit funding that was previously split only between Metro and TANK, Northern Kentucky's bus service.
About $2 million of the urban federal transit funding previously received by Metro would go to these two counties. In the past Metro used those funds to help subsidize these outlying services.
But because of other federal transportation funding cuts, these counties may need the money that once went to Metro.
The Butler County Regional Transit Authority Board, which stopped its bus service for financial reasons at the end of last year, has not decided whether it will keep its $1.5 million federal allocation for possible future use, or disband and allow federal money to be distributed among the other public transportation agencies in the area.
The board will spend the next few months trying to determine whether it's worth resurrecting some form of public transportation in Butler County, said Carla Lakatos, the transit authority's executive director.
Melissa O'Farrell, mobility coordinator for Clermont Transportation Connection (CTC), the agency that oversees county public transportation, has said Clermont County would lose about $800,000 in rural transit funding it needs to operate its services.
CTC provides rural service - door-to-door transportation - seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Metro provides express service from and to areas in Amelia, Eastgate/Union Township, Loveland and Milford.
On Friday, O'Farrell would say only that negotiations are ongoing and no decisions have been made.
A five-hour public hearing was held Friday afternoon at the Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center. Officials hoped to get rider suggestions on ways to maintain service.
Sallie Hilvers, Metro spokeswoman, said more than 300 riders have contacted her regarding service to their respective areas.
Steve Kemme contributed.
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