The Howard Area Transit Service (HATS) West bus service could be operating differently this Labor Day.
The Howard County Public Transportation Board unanimously recommended last night approving a proposal to convert the bus route into a demand-response system that would serve riders who request a bus at least 24 hours in advance.
The proposal, which must get final approval from the state Public Service Commission, was sparked by a 50 percent drop in ridership since November and high operating costs.
"This was a noble experiment -- well-intentioned, but not very wise," board member Z. Andrew Farkas said of the West bus service. "I think that [the change] is a step in the right direction."
Ray Ambrose, transit administrator for Corridor Transportation Corp., a Laurel company that manages HATS, also told the board that the state has added $113,000 to this year's operating budget to help keep afloat a bus service for disabled people, called ADAPT.
The additional funding means that the number of subscription rides -- standing orders for regular pickups -- for disabled riders will increase from 465 this month to 1,146, beginning next month.
But the most pressing issue at last night's meeting was the future of the West bus service. In operation since March 1997, the bus route has 18 stops between the Lisbon Park & Ride lot and The Mall in Columbia.
Once offering four round trips a day, the service was reduced to two daily trips when a $42,117 Mass Transit Administration grant was used up before the end of the year.
Before the number of trips was reduced, Ambrose said ridership was growing almost 25 percent a month.
"We were making progress," said Carl Balser, the county's chief of transportation planning. "I think what we're seeing here is that we don't have the critical mass to make it worthwhile."
Ambrose told the board that converting the system to demand-response would reduce the cost per boarding from the current $19 to $10.81.
"We're not optimistic that there's going to be a climb in [ridership]," he said. "If there was something to suggest otherwise, we would reconsider our options."
Ambrose said the MTA would have to at least double last year's grant to keep the West service as is.
But board members seemed resigned to ending it.
"I think we all knew where the West service was going to go," said Jeffry Barnett, who chairs the board. "It just ran its course."
Pub Date: 6/24/98