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Carroll County Times
Carroll County News

As Carroll Transit System ridership slowly increases, county staff braces for additional operating, capital expenses

As ridership on the Carroll Transit System slowly returns to pre-pandemic levels, the county’s budget for public transportation is expected to increase, according to county staff. Overall expenses in the transportation operating budget will go up by about $250,000 in fiscal 2023, according to Stacey Nash, a transportation grants manager.

The biggest contributors to that increase are hourly driver rates, and vehicle insurance coverage, Nash said.

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During an update to the Board of County Commissioners last week, Nash said the preliminary fiscal 2023 operating and capital transportation budgets total $2,217,119.77 and $473,181, respectively. Nash will come back to commissioners in March for a final vote on the transportation budgets.

The Department of Public Works will have the opportunity hold a public hearing as part of forming the county’s annual transportation plan, which will allow the department to apply for grant funding. If the public hearing is requested, an open session will be held on Feb. 24.

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In Carroll County, public transportation is funded by grants from the Federal Transit Administration and the Maryland Transit Administration, by county taxpayers, and by fare revenue.

In fiscal 2022, the department used federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) emergency funding to cover operating expenses, Nash said, and did not request federal and state grants, as usual.

“… This year we decided to request formula funding like we had in previous years,” Nash said, adding that matching operating funds of $305,876 from the county would be requested.

In the capital transportation budget, the department is planning to request four replacement vehicles from the state, including three vehicles for its door-to-door service, called Demand Response, and one minivan. These new vehicles would part of a normal replacement cycle.

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In fiscal 2022, the county also requested four vehicles from the state, Nash noted, but only received three. The state decides how many vehicles are awarded to the county based on its budget and requests from other counties.

Commissioners also approved acceptance of American Rescue Plan Act funds in the amount of $531,269 and Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act funds in the amount of $292,323 for public transportation in Carroll. The federal grants do not require a county match and will be used to offset transit operating expenses. The county has until 2024 to spend these funds.

Carroll Transit System provided more than 45,000 passenger trips in fiscal 2021 combined for Demand Response and for TrailBlazers, nine fixed routes open to the public on weekdays, according to county documents. In fiscal 2022 to date, more than 35,000 trips have been provided by Carroll Transit via its fleet of 40 vehicles.

Door-to-door service rates are up by 38% this year, Nash said. This service currently accounts for 71% of rides provided by the system. Riders are transported each day throughout the county with an average trip length of 12 miles. Riders are primarily elderly and/or disabled and use demand response for medical, employment, social service and general-purpose trips.

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Demand for the entire TrailBlazer system has also increased, with ridership on the black route based in Westminster up by 60%.

The TrailBlazer routes operate in North Carroll, Taneytown, South Carroll and Westminster on weekdays. The system provided just less than 10,000 passenger trips through December in fiscal 2022, a 135% increase over the same period in fiscal 2021.

“While neither is back to pre-COVID numbers, the slow but steady increase is very encouraging,” Nash said.


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