AUSTIN EDITION Seniors can expect rise in bus fees
Mower County Transit staff faces budget crunch
By Amy Olson
Austin area seniors can expect to pay more for rides with the area's public transportation system in 2003.
On Tuesday, Mower County Board members approved plans unveiled by Mower County Transit staff members to cut the 8-year-old public transportation system's budget without cutting service.
Collette Turcotte, executive director of Community Action of Freeborn County, which runs the bus service, said the county lost a $12,000 grant from the Southeast Minnesota Agency on Aging after her group took over operation of the bus service. Two weeks ago, the county board voted against a second attempt to seek funding from the group.
Transit Director Eduardo Alvear said the bus service was spending about $16,000 in addition to the $12,000 grant to provide 32,500 rides for seniors.
Senior fares for route service will be $1, while the dial-a-ride service will be $2, Turcotte said in January. Riders 60 and older now are able to get 10 tokens for any amount they are able to donate.
Ken Halliday, who is in charge of scheduling and bus maintenance, said discount cards offering 12 rides for $10 will be offered.
Turcotte said Community Action of Freeborn County has torn apart the service's budget "piece by piece" in an attempt to find a way to save money in 2003. Those efforts are expected to yield a budget of $345,756 for 2003. By comparison, the bus service submitted expenditures of $707,420 in 2001. Historically, 65 percent of the budget has come from state funds.
Turcotte said the bus service is looking into everything from finding less expensive space to lease and less expensive maintenance agreements to reconsidering the uniforms worn by employees and finding lower-priced parts and tires.
Administrators would like to find a less expensive rental garage that would also have a place where buses could be washed.
Other changes may include eliminating route-based services from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. to dial-a-ride service, reducing the number of buses on the roads from four to one to serve the six to nine riders. That could add up to a savings of more than $43,000, Halliday said.
The bus service will begin more closely comparing rider lists to fare boxes more closely, something that hasn't been done in the past. That will enable managers to do a cost analysis for each bus and route, Turcotte said.
County Human Services Director Bruce Henricks said he didn't realize the bus service's previous management had not been making those comparisons.
"That's just good business," Henricks said.