LTD axes some campus routes, more cuts expected

The Lane Transit District cut 3 percent of Eugene and Springfield bus routes at the beginning of September to compensate for lower revenue, but avoided bigger cuts through an infusion of money from the federal stimulus. However, sources at and close to the transport provider said larger cuts will likely follow in 2010 unless the economy rebounds.

From projections made last year, LTD was looking at a $3-million deficit, brought on in part by falling revenues from the payroll tax. The deficit was initially supposed to culminate in the loss of nearly 15 percent of bus service in Eugene and Springfield. However, LTD managed to use stimulus funds to reduce this cut to about 3 percent.

“We were able to flex that money and use it for operations,” LTD spokesperson Andy Vobora said. “We thought, if we can use this in operations, maybe that will buy us another year. Maybe we come out of this recession.”

Because many routes were redesigned and combined, few were eliminated completely. One route that was slated to be eliminated but was kept is the Breeze route, which runs back and forth from campus to the Valley River Center, stopping at the 5th Street Public Market and the Amtrak Station on its way.

Other routes saved by the stimulus that affect students commuting to school are the 3x, which comes from River Road to the University campus, and the 8x, from the Thurston area to campus.

“We didn’t put all the trips back, but we put the most productive ones and put those back in. We’ll see how that works,” Vobora said.

One cut campus route was route 79, which connected the University and Gateway Mall, though Vobora said that has been compensated by the expansion of the similar 79x route. “We kind of supplemented the 79x with some additional service to provide a little more frequency since that’s the one that always gets overloaded,” Vobora said. “We’ve had some complaints, especially by people who aren’t students.”

Student leaders are unhappy about the cuts.

“Anytime we cut a route we cut the potential ability for students to get home and to come from work,” ASUO President Emma Kallaway said. “I’m definitely aware that this is really unfortunate and hope that students can find alternatives.”

Vobora said alternatives are the top priority in making the cuts, along with productivity.
Although minimal cuts were made, the stimulus money may prove a mere stopgap before
larger cuts next year.

“It’s much more severe in terms of impact on our payroll taxes than we anticipated, so the cuts that we were able to fend off for a year with this stimulus money, that’s a one year shot of money and it’s gone,” he said. “It’s looking like we’re going to go through the exact same process this fall again.”

Looking at the potential cuts for next year, Vobora admits that it may have been more logical to have stayed with the initial plan of high-volume route cuts.

“There’s just no silver bullets out there,” Vobora said. “If the economy doesn’t come back quickly, we don’t have another funding source. In retrospect, in the long term, it probably would have been better for us to stick with the original plan and make the bigger cuts. We pushed it out a year in the hopes that something happens, but the reality is you’re going to have to make those cuts anyway and the sooner you make them the more savings you get down the road.”

Senior Nick Schillaci, who until recently advised the ASUO in transportation matters, understands the situation LTD is in. “It was a way for them to stay afloat until they found some more funding,” he said. “It will take closer coordination with the University because we’re their biggest customers and their biggest funders.”

If cuts are made closer to campus next year, Kallaway said the ASUO will do its best to protect students’ ability to get to and from campus. “Our greatest tool is our negotiation power,” she said. “If we feel there aren’t enough routes, we will do something like try to lower cost. Students are a huge population in the Eugene community.”

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