PLATTSBURGH, NY – Clinton County is facing a shortage of bus money. A lack of state subsidies could leave the burden on passengers in the form of increased fares.
Michelle Gilpin says she has no problem with the rates as they are now, $1 for city travel and a $2 rural rate.
Gilpin and her son Matthew relied on Clinton County Public Transit to get them to Champlain Centre Mall Tuesday. When the summer's over she'll use it to get to her job.
“I take it to Clinton Community College where I work,” Gilpin said.
“It's cheaper than taking a cab.”
Rate changes wouldn’t be dramatic enough to surpass cab fares but some preliminary proposals are still substantial.
County legislators estimate the transit system could be $115,000 in the red by 2015 and it's due to declining ridership, down from an average of 200,000 a year to 180,000.
Each rider equals a roughly forty cent subsidy from the state.
“So every time we lose a passenger we lose the money they would pay on the bus plus the subsidy from the state,” Clinton County Planning Technician James Bosley said.
Bosley says the county receives five payments a year from the NYDOT to subsidize the public transit system. Their last payment was $50,000 less than normal because of the declining ridership.
Bosley says the county has lost many riders due to a policy change that allows Medicaid patients to take cabs at a reduced rate to the rider.
A county legislator estimates 80 percent of passengers ride the bus to reach medical services.
The options to bridge the funding gap are limited. Bosley says cutting routes wouldn't save money. County legislators have looked at raising rates by 50 percent. But the Planning Department suggests that fare increase could lead to a twenty percent drop in ridership.
“So if we increase fairs and fewer people come it's a double whammy,” Bosley said.
Ideally, county legislators would like to see ridership increase at local colleges. Students at Clinton Community College average 5000 rides a month during the school year. At the county they hope that number increases even though enrollment is decreasing.
Before any fare increase could happen it would have to be reviewed by county legislators and voted on. The subject will likely be on the agenda at the Clinton County Legislature meeting Monday July 14.