Budget Busters Could Mean More Cuts To Public Bus System
By Luke T. Bush © 2015
PLATTSBURGH CITY, NY – Feb. 20, 2015
“Where’s the bus?”
A question that takes on more importance for a rider waiting outside at a stop, exposed to sub-zero winter weather.
CCPT (Clinton County Public Transit) is doing its best to serve North Country riders while dealing with a shortage of qualified drivers. Sometimes there are unavoidable delays or parts of a scheduled run are missed.
Some North Country residents are unable to drive due to age or disability. Others with fixed incomes can’t afford a car or even a taxi cab. They’re dependent on the county’s public bus system that operates within Plattsburgh City and the surrounding area.
Unfortunately the driver shortage might create even more inconvenience for those riders beyond delays or missed runs.
Planning Technician James Bosley didn’t need another hit on the CCPT budget.
He explained via an email interview how difficult it has been to balance the CCPT budget: “The $33,000 ‘shortfall’ [in governmental funding] for the 2013 fiscal year meant that local tax payer dollars had to make up the difference by way of Clinton County’s general fund balance. The $66,000 additional expense of overtime contributed to a 2014 fiscal year ‘shortfall’ which will be about $75,000. This amount will again need to be covered by County general fund balance.”
Another budget buster is the Medicaid takeover. Under this system clients can take taxis instead of the bus to medical appointments. Of course most clients prefer riding by cab.
“Medicaid transportation revenues dropped by about $20,000 annually after the takeover,” said James, “and this continues to contribute to the financial situation for CCPT.
In working towards a balanced budget he had to cut out some routes last year.
The driver shortage has resulted in bus operators working double shifts, overtime pay eating into the budget.
“This [overtime situation] is about three times the impact that the Medicaid transportation takeover has had on CCPT,” said James.
He notes that the driver shortage is not limited to CCPT. “I am hearing,” he said, “that public schools and the ARC (Advocacy Resource Center) in the area are having trouble getting drivers as well.”
“The driver shortage is very serious,” James said. “We were not able to run some of the North City runs last week because there was nobody to drive for an hour or two at a time.”
A private company, First Transit, Inc., is under contract to the county to provide qualified drivers. It offers training for new drivers but those drivers are not bound to stay with CCPT after completing a course. They can leave and find work with other companies, adding no relief to the bus system’s driver shortage.
Another problem is the turnaround time to get a new driver behind the wheel. It might take a month or two or longer for before a replacement driver could fill an open position depending upon whether or not if the new hire already has a Class A or Class B license.
The CCPT Planning Technician faces difficult decisions.
“It is possible that there will be route cuts in the near future,” said James.
If that does happen it means a rough ride for everyone involved.