The room was pretty full for a Thursday afternoon at the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC) Transit Center.
Residents filed in for the public hearing in Woodbridge, to express their concerns about the looming $9.2 million budget shortfall, projected service cuts and fare increases that will take effect fiscal year 2017 – starting July 1 of this year.
According to PRTC documents, the buses currently average around 12,000 rides per day, and 3 million rides per year. But with the proposed service cuts of 10% of existing service, and a 5% fare increase, 125,000 trips will be lost per year, according to PRTC documents.
Check out the proposed service cuts on the eastern and western end of the county, and the proposed fare increases.
How did PRTC end up in this situation?
Several residents raised this question at the hearing, but there is no single answer, according to PRTC Executive Director Eric Marx.
PRTC documents stated that revenue from the 2.1% motor fuels tax – the major source of PRTC’s funding – has dropped by 30%. This is due to the dropping gas prices, and no tax ‘floor’ on the motor fuels tax, according to Marx. Additionally, there was a loss of some federal funds, stated PRTC documents.
What does it mean for Prince William residents?
All of the routes have been effected – which includes both the commuter and local service – and could have a huge impact on many bus riders in the county.
The impact of PRTC’s situation was clear as residents one after another, after another, stood at the podium to share their story.
“I’ve had vision problems, so I don’t have a driver’s license and my husband and I picked our current house so that I could have some sort of independence – get to the grocery store, get to work…and if you remove the local neighborhood routing through Lake Ridge, I will not be able to get to work. I will have to move out of Prince William County,” said resident Alison Dietrich.
There were also local business owners in attendance that shared how they felt the loss of bus service would impact the county.
“I’m a business owner, as well as a Prince William County resident, and I’d like to look at it [from] the business perspective. PRTC by its very nature is a business advantage…it only takes a quick observation, to look at any of the VDOT (Virginia Department of Public Transportation) lots in the morning to notice there’s so many cars there…so the need is there. To cut any of the service would be a great disservice,” said resident and business-owner Steve Koski.
Could it get worse?
The answer is yes. According to PRTC documents, if the Prince William County Board of Supervisors were to ask for additional cuts, it could mean the end of local bus service.
“Our doomsday scenario is that if Prince William County required more than about $2 million of additional savings, at that point we’re talking about a very, very, very , very different looking [bus] service…we’re talking about services that would only run commuter operations to and from Metro stations – no local bus services,” said Marx.
Additionally, if the county decides that they want an additional 25% change in any route or even 25% more cuts overall, then all services will be halted on July 1, “since additional reductions will not be able to be implemented until late 2016,” stated PRTC documents.
What happens next?
In order to continue operating with it’s proposed service cuts and fare increases, PRTC will need a $6 million commitment for the fiscal year 2017 through 2021 budget, stated PRTC documents.
They’ll also need the General Assembly to pass a tax ‘floor’ to the motor fuels tax, so that as gas prices continue to drop, PRTC’s revenue from the tax will not continue to diminish after a certain point.
When public hearings are completed in February, they will be compiled in March before being presented to the PRTC board. The county board will finalize their budget in April, and changes will be implemented in July.
PRTC is urging residents to submit written comments and comments on their website, so that they can be compiled and used to plead PRTC’s case for funding.