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Editorial - Broccoli and buses

June 23, 1997

Citing flat ridership, the manager of the Washington County Commuter bus system says he wants to do three things: increase on-bus advertising, add new software that will track riders at the fare box and send staffers to senior-citizen complexes to educate residents on how to use the buses.

And if all these things are successful? In a move that seems puzzling when compared to Kevin Cerrone's other strategies, he's planning to downsize the fleet, selling five 30-seat buses and replacing them with three 16- to 18-seat models. The profits from the sale of the 30-seat models will go into the county's coffers, Cerrone said.

At a time when the Waynesboro, Pa. area is witnessing two companies competing to provide bus service there, why are Washington County officials so ambivalent about providing the same service here? There are several reasons.

Even though the county government pays only 17 percent of the system's annual budget of $1.31 million, the system has always been perceived as drain on the county treasury, instead of as a service for senior citizens and others who lack cars. City officials also treated the buses as a nuisance, working to shift the transfer point from Public Square to the railroad underpass near Burhans Boulevard.

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Nor have county officials sought contributions from the shopping centers where the buses stop, as bus operators have in the Waynesboro area. Would Valley Mall officials really say "no" if the county asked them to offset some of the costs?

The bottom line is that county government is treating the operation of a bus system like some kids face eating broccoli - both know they ought to do it, but neither can muster much enthusiasm for the task. But the county had better swallow this fact: Since both major governments have allowed (no, encouraged) medical services to move to Robinwood and away from the senior citizen complexes that ring downtown, there's a continuing need for public transportation. Concentrate on improving ridership before downsizing the system.

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