Officials Discuss Restoring Bus Service

Hopes are high that sometime next week, public transportation service will be restored in Meridian.

Meridian Transit System halted service at 5 p.m. Wednesday, because of a lack of money. Over the last three years, city funding for the system has been cut by 60 percent.

The city council met with members of the Meridian Transit System board in a work session to discuss what needs to be done to get the buses back on the road.

Council members asked transit officials what was done leading up to the closure to try to prevent it from happening.

"Cutting routes would save us about $1,000 per route. We've cut routes," said Patricia Flowers, MTS executive director. "We've gone to demand response. Demand response is more costly than fixed routes."

At the council's request, Flowers said every year MTS undergoes an audit. According to her, no problems have been found during the audits.

She and the president of the MTS board say the major problem is continued cuts in funding.

"Until transit in Meridian is properly funded, we'll be back here in two months with the problem," said Bo Hawkins, MTS board president.

"The cost of running this program is $35 (per rider). The cost in other communities our same size is anywhere form $5 to $15 (per rider). So, somewhere we've got a problem and we've got to fix it," said Barry.

Flowers says $80,000 is needed to sustain Meridian Transit through the rest of the current fiscal year, which ends in late September.

Flowers says $60,000 of that would be used just to pay off outstanding debts, such as taxes and rent, which is three months behind. At its meeting Tuesday, the Meridian City Council is expected to vote on how much money it will provide Meridian Transit.

Council members say they are committed to doing what needs to be done to get the buses back up and running.

"I have appointed Dr. (George) Thomas and Councilman Bobby Smith to get together and decide what they will recommend for the council at the next meeting, which is Tuesday morning," said council president, Barbara Henson. "We can work with $60,000, because part of that will be what we already owe them. We can work with that. That will get them on their feet if that's what's recommended for the council to do."

Here are some facts about the Meridian Transit System: It takes about $25,000 a month to operate it; with about 35 to forty riders each day. The amount collected in riders' fees is about $3,000 a month. The bulk of the funding comes from local money and state matching grants. Over the last three years, ridership for MTS increased by 11 percent.

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