WEIRTON - The Weirton Transit Corp. designated a special committee to handle issues, including deviations from the main bus route and how to generate additional revenue at June's board meeting, hearing feedback from that committee for the first time Wednesday.
According to officials, 58 percent of WTC's riders are being picked up and dropped off on routes deviating from the main route, costing an excess of time and fuel. This has been exacerbated by construction in recent months, officials said. Options to help solve this issue range from cutting service to raising fares, according to Wednesday's committee report. Members have mulled over various actions during several meetings this year, and the committee was created to forge a solution.
Transit board member Curt Hinchee relayed their findings so far. Previously, officials seemed to lean toward instituting a separate, more expensive bus pass for deviated pickup locations to encourage riders who live only one or two blocks from the main route to walk to it rather than costing the bus extra time, which, he explained, can often lead to other passengers being late. Instead, Hinchee said the committee was focusing on a broader approach.
"What we came down to is that's not the main problem, and it won't solve the main problem. To be able to keep up with demand, we need another driver and another bus on the afternoon shift," Hinchee said. "Of course we run into the wall we always run into, which is 'where do we get the funding to do that?' We have the money on the federal side, but we don't have it on the local side. We need to have a few more committee meetings to discuss more options and potential solutions to funding. We need local money to match this grant so that we can do the things we need to do."
Local dollars are matched with federal dollars, so any revenue generated for WTC locally will technically be doubled.
"In seven years we've more than doubled our ridership, but the local resources have stayed pretty stagnant in proportion with the ridership we've increased by. I think we've done a heck of a job keeping up with it, but we're at a point now where we have to really look at something different to make this the service it needs to be. It's evolving and changing," Hinchee commented.
Board members are also researching options regarding the possible institution of a levy. Beynon said they've been in contact with other agencies around the state to learn more about a citywide levy, and an upcoming West Virginia Public Transit Association convention should shed some light on the subject for officials who will be attending.
"When you hear the word levy, that's usually pretty scary. We need $100,000, and $50,000 of that will be paid by the government. Just for example, that's one dollar menu meal per citizen. Giving up that one burger and fries, just one for the entire year, it would give us enough to do that. So it's not a scary thing. It's about $2.50 per individual, which is ridiculously low in terms of what we would need to help continue on with the service that we provide," commented Walter Angelini, board member.
A review of the financial report revealed that fares for last fiscal year totaled $62,560.70. Repairs for the year cost $19,674, which officials said is less than usual.
"Total revenue is around $653,000 rounded off, and I just want to point out that apparently the federal transit has kicked in about $333,000 of that. I think that's excellent," Angelini noted.
Transit Manager Kevin Beynon reported that ridership for June was up by 577 customers from last year, making a total of 4,119 passengers for the month.
"Remember June and July are always our two slowest months," Beynon pointed out.
For the entire fiscal year, transit ridership was up 5,088 people, which makes an 11 percent increase from the previous year.
A driver who has been on sick leave for an extended time will be returning in about two weeks, and an interview has been scheduled in the hopes of filling another open driver position, Beynon said. Staff has been stretched thin in recent months as a result of the vacancies, he said.