Clark County bus service cost, need debated

Some New Carlisle council members question costs while other say public transportation is needed.

Some New Carlisle City Council members want to pull the plug on a regional bus system after less than two years because they say too few residents ride it and the city needs to make budget cuts.

WestCAT currently averages just 1.5 riders per trip and city council member Rick Lowrey said the city is throwing $5,000 a year “out the window” on the service.

“I said after the first year that was money going out of the tailpipe,” Lowrey said.

Eliminating WestCAT was one of several potential budget cuts council members have discussed as they look to cut between $250,000 to $300,000 from the general fund to avoid ending the year with less than $400 or go into the red in the event of unexpected expenses. Other recent cuts included trimming the number of deputies it pays for in half.

“The way it is right now if there is one thing, one piece of equipment, one well that goes down, we’re out of luck and that’s not the way to run this city,” Jones said.

WestCAT began running two buses throughout western Clark County — including New Carlisle, Park Layne, Enon and Mad River Twp. — in April 2013. It also has stops in Springfield and Fairborn.

The buses were donated by Developmental Disabilities of Clark County and the service is funded largely with federal, state and local money, including $5,000 each from New Carlisle, Mad River Twp. and Enon. Riders pay $2 for an adult fare.

WestCAT ridership is growing, Clark County-Springfield Transportation Coordinating Committee Transportation Planner Glen Massie said. Between April and December 2013, the bus service had 623 riders. In 2014, WestCAT had 1,289 riders.

“Everybody feels really good about the growth we’ve experienced,” Massie said. “Although we didn’t really have an established goal set, our goal really was to see improvement or increases throughout the continuation of service.”

But the service should end as the money spent on it could add up to a sizable savings, Lowrey said.

New Carlisle City Council members Ethan Reynolds and Richard Zsambok also criticized WestCAT.

“WestCAT is a service that is enjoyed by virtually nobody,” Zsambok said.

Bethany Goff, 21, has been riding WestCAT for about a year.

“For me it’s kind of a life saver to even be able to hold a job to eventually be able to save up for a car. There’s really no other way to get from the county into Springfield,” Goff said. “There’s only two or three cab companies in Springfield and it would cost $30 to $40 a day to go to work with them as opposed to $4 a day to go to work by WestCAT. It makes it possible for me to continue being a contributing member of society.”

She said she has a friend with a disability who lives in New Carlisle who uses the bus to connect to Greene County public transit and then transfers to a Dayton bus.

New Carlisle city council members will vote on whether it will continue funding WestCAT in the spring, Jones said, when the cost to the city will drop to about $4,000 and possibly less.

She said she hopes board members won’t eliminate it because it took 40 years to get buses in the area and once it’s gone, it likely won’t come back.

“We need to give it more time to take off … It’s growing. It’s not like it’s going the other way,” Jones said.

Public transportation such as WestCAT and Springfield City Area Transit serve a small percentage of the local population, Massie said.

But he said the service is needed by those who don’t have transportation or who cannot drive because of a disability.

“The fact of the matter is the people who ride it, need it and there are people in the outlying area in western Clark County that have a need for WestCAT. It doesn’t mean that everybody is going to ride it, but we’re serving those people who do need it,” Massie said.

“It could potentially help other people out who may not have a situation now, but down the road have a vehicle break down or a medical situation that keeps them from driving,” he said. “At any given time you could be a transit rider.”

Enon trustees voted to renew the WestCAT contract in December in a 4-2 vote.

Trustee Elmer Beard, who once spent 13 years as transportation director with developmental disabilities, said he voted to continue funding the service.

“I fielded a lot of inquiries from people who needed transportation at various times in their life for medical purposes or work purposes because they had medical problems. I really feel it’s a service that is needed for our population,” Beard said.

Massie said he hopes the service continues to receive funding, but understands that there are budget concerns.

“There’s no guarantee that the service would continue at the current level if we lose any of the funding,” Massie said.

For more information about WestCAT or its schedule, call 937-328-5240 or visit www.ridewestcat.com.

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