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Eastern Panhandle's public transit service struggling

June 01, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The director of the Eastern Panhandle’s public transit service said the agency’s budget difficulties this year are about the same as last year, but she remained optimistic about the future.

“We’re holding on,” said Belinda Rollins, who was hired in January 2011 to direct the Eastern Panhandle Transit Authority, known as PanTran.

The transit service, which serves 10 routes in Berkeley and Jefferson counties, has averaged about 300,000 annual riders for the last few years, Rollins said. The number of area residents riding PanTran’s buses has increased with the rise in fuel prices, she said. 

The transit service provides transportation from 8 a.m. until about 9 or 10 p.m., Monday through Friday, as well as limited Saturday service, Rollins said.

PanTran has 33 employees, including herself, she said.

“There’s no fat in the budget,” Rollins said Friday.

Although the price of fuel has helped ridership, it also has eaten away more of the transit system’s budget, which is a little more than $1 million, Rollins said.

“Nothing I can see has really changed from this time last year,” Rollins said when asked about a reported $40,000 shortfall this year. “We’re doing a lot more with less.”

Along with cuts in federal funds, state funding has been eliminated entirely in the last several years, and the state no longer is assisting the agency with bus purchases, she said.

Bus replacement is not an immediate concern because the fleet is relatively new, she said.

“Everything has just come at a really bad time,” Rollins said.

Despite the financial constraints, Rollins said she has a positive outlook on the future.

PanTran is expected to receive additional federal funding for the 2013-14 fiscal year because of the service area’s explosive population growth documented by the 2010 census, she said.

Rollins did not know how much additional funding would be received as a result of the population increase, but she said the additional money should help “tremendously.”

The authority also hopes to win a contract to transport MARC train passengers from Brunswick, Md., to Duffields, Harpers Ferry and Martinsburg.

Rollins said she could not respond to statements that PanTran board member Eugene D. Pearson made before the Berkeley County Council concerning the agency’s projected budget shortfall of about $150,000, noting she had been out of the office due to illness.

Council President William L. “Bill” Stubblefield told Pearson at a meeting Thursday that he was “very concerned” about the agency’s financial difficulties, but the county was not equipped to assume full responsibility for providing the service.

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