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What Some TARC Riders Have to Say About the Proposed Schedule Changes

Louisvillians who rely on public transportation have concerns about a proposed schedule change to some of the Transit Authority of River City's busiest routes.

And it seems unlikely city, state or federal lawmakers will address the budget shortfalls that have led to the proposed changes anytime soon.

The proposal, which looks to delay bus arrival times on routes serving Broadway, Fourth Street and Dixie and Preston Highways, is up for public comment through May 22 and is slated to be enacted in August. (Here's our story from Tuesday with details on the proposed schedule changes.)

The schedule changes will help save nearly $1.2 million in costs during the next fiscal year—making up for the recent loss of federal funding that previously supported the routes served by the 4, 18 and 23 buses, among others, said Barry Barker, director of TARC.

"We've got to live inside of a budget like everyone else," Barker said.

Waiting on Broadway for the 23 bus to take her to Newburg, Sonya Smith said the proposed changes will likely impact a lot of people who depend on the TARC for jobs, doctor appointments and scheduled court appearances.

"It's going to be a big effect, just to be a couple of minutes late," she said.

Smith, 37, said she doesn't own a car. She relies on the bus, daily, to move her around the city.

She said a better way to funnel more money into TARC's budget would be to raise fares, not tinker with the schedule. Smith said she'd be willing to pay 25 cents more to ride the bus.

"Even the people struggling, if they have somewhere to be that's important they'll come up with that 25 cents," she said.

At the same bus stop, Juan Mejai also waits for the 23 bus heading eastbound. Mejai said he could handle the altered bus schedule, as long as the buses come on time.

Even now, with the current schedule, Mejai said buses are often late and a bus that's just a few minutes late might lead him to miss a connecting bus.  That's a big issue "when my boss is expecting me to be on time," he said.

Mejai, 39, opposes a fare increase. He said $2 or more to ride the bus is "way too much.

"But, what can we do? Got to have transportation, I don't have a vehicle, myself."

Mejai said he would perhaps be open to paying more in bus fare if it meant he could ride the bus all day. The current $1.75 bus fare in Louisville provides passengers with a transfer ticket valid for two hours after purchase.

Amanda St. Clair, 29, said she, too, would be willing to pay more for the bus if it allowed for longer transfer periods and if the buses came on time more frequently.

"If the bus is late then I'm late for work," she said, standing in the same bus stop shelter as Mejai and Smith.

Down the street, on the corner of Fourth Street and Broadway, Jessica Lopez, 19, waits for the number 4 bus to take her to University of Louisville campus.

She said she doesn't believe many people will have problems because the schedule would change by only a few minutes than the current schedule.

"You can kind of accommodate your schedule," she said. "But if it's late, it could make people be late to their appointments."

The schedule restructure will likely be an indefinite change for TARC, said Jon Reiter, spokesman for the transit authority.

But, he added that routes and scheduling are issues under constant examination.

"In the future if it makes sense for us to reinstate them back to how they previously were, I’m sure we’ll consider it closely," Reiter said in an email.

An increase in bus fare is not something currently on the table for discussion, said Barker, TARC's director.

"We took a look at it and decided we were not going to raise fare," he said.

But Barker said that could change in a year or two.

Metro Councilman Tom Owen, a Democrat from District 8 and chair of the city's transportation committee, said a fare increase would put the burden of TARC's budget shortfall on users of public transportation, which in many cases are the poorest and most vulnerable residents in a city.

"I would certainly be very disappointed if we had to have yet another fare increase," he said.

The last TARC fare increase came in 2012. That increase took bus fare from $1.50 to the current rate of $1.75 for a one way trip, according to TARC officials. Before that, fares were boosted from $1.25 to $1.50 in 2008.

An increase in bus fare would need to be approved by a majority vote from the transit authority's board of directors, a TARC spokesman said. And a public comment period would be held  before the issue would come to a vote, similar to the current proposed route changes.

The budget shortfall TARC is trying to address comes as a federal grant from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program has run out, Barker said.

Barker said other federal funding sources have not recently been increased. That, coupled with "virtually nonexistent" support from the state and little assistance from the city, makes it difficult to continue to provide the service residents in a growing metro area depend on.

Dewey Clayton, a University of Louisville political science professor, said it's unlikely to see federal lawmakers funnel more money into public transportation.

"If anything, it's just the opposite of that," he said.

State Rep. Charles Miller, a Democrat from the states 28th district and vice chair of the House transportation committee, said public transportation is rarely discussed among state lawmakers.

He couldn't say what the chances are for getting more funds for services such as TARC.

Reginald Williams, 62, waiting for the 23 bus on Broadway to take him to his house near 19th Street, said he has been riding the bus "off and on over the years."

Williams said whatever happens, the schedule change or an eventual bump up in bus fare, TARC riders will have to adjust.

"You've just got to deal with it," he said.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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