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(Sept. 21, 2018) The Transportation Committee discussed the following topics during its meeting last Tuesday.

Bus ridership and staffing

Transit Manager Mark Rickards said bus ridership was up two percent this August compared to last, continuing the slight uptick recorded during July. Labor Day Weekend was also up 11 percent compared to last year.

Rickards also noted tram ridership has increased roughly seven percent from last season.

Turning to bus/tram driver recruitment and retention efforts, Human Resource Director Wayne Evans championed drawing staff from within the community.

“We need to continue to offer training for bus drivers to develop our own CDL drivers,” he said.

Peaking at 138 bus drivers in July, Rickards said staffing levels have been a touch below the 148-member crew from 2017, eventually dwindling to 118 drivers by August. 

“We still had sufficient drivers to make deployments and headways,” he said. “We had to pay some overtime to meet deployment needs.”

By contrast, Rickards said the tram division maintained a pool of 46 evenly divided between drivers and conductors.

“We haven’t had a lot of people up and quit and say it’s not for us,” he said.

Uber/Lyft revenue impact

Public Works Director Hal Adkins talked about the continued proliferation of ride sharing services and the growing impact on transit ridership and revenue.

In July 2016, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation to collect 25 cents for trips through online ride sharing platforms.

Adkins said the revenue stream, which totaled $36,800 during fiscal 2017, grew by 68 percent to reach $61,978 in fiscal 2018.

“It has nothing to do with the number of people in the vehicle, it’s based on the number of rides given,” he said.

Although not all ride sharing users would have otherwise used transit services, Adkins said the impact in undeniable.

“There are many things that will whittle away at ridership and revenue numbers,” he said.

VW mitigation funds

Transit Administrative Manager Brian Connor reviewed a grant application for $700,000 of a $2.9 billion Volkswagen mitigation fund which was divided among all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

In October 2016, Volkswagen settled U.S. government claims about diesel engines violating the Clean Air Act and EPA emission standards between 2009-2015, agreeing to pay $2.92 billion which was divided among states based on regional sales figures.

Pryor, who is currently completing the grant application, said the funds would be earmarked for a transit bus purchase, with one possibility being a 70-foot articulating bus.

Connor noted Maryland has $4 million available for public transit purchases.

Councilman Dennis Dare, who questioned the probability of receiving $700,000 for the larger articulating bus, said including a matching cost-share amount would increase those odds.

City Manager Miller said Pryor had previously suggested a less costly traditional size bus would be more likely to gain funding traction.

Dare noted an articulating bus, with capacity for 100 people versus 60 in single engine vehicles, would provide beneficial operational cost savings.

“Articulating buses save money every year,” he said.

Adkins said the application is still being finalized and Pryor should be informed if matching funds are located.

Bus shelter lighting

Adkins said a pilot program for solar lighting in bus shelters would cost approximately $11,000 and evaluate variable solar devices at six locations.

Budget Manager Jennie Knapp said the funds are available with a precise source determined after fiscal 2018 numbers are finalized

“I can probably shake it out of transportation fund,” she said.

Adkins said the goal is to have six test locations installed within six months.

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