- Published on Wednesday, 11 July 2012 15:16
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The King George Board of Supervisors is going to try again to find viable transportation options that could serve to provide public transportation alternatives within and beyond the county.
They don’t have high expectations, but wanted to follow through on a commitment to the few residents who used the service that had previously been provided by FREDericksburg Regional Transit (FRED) until the end of June.
They’ve already gotten disappointing results from a request for information (RFI) that had been issued in May with responses due back late last month. During discussion of the two responses at their last meeting on June 26, Supervisors gave the go-ahead for issuance of a request for proposals (RFP). County Administrator Travis Quesenberry told The Journal it will likely be finalized and issued this week.
FRED service was eliminated because FRED officials said last fall it was not economically viable to continue for a second year with the $100,000 level of reduced funding from the county that had been tried for the last fiscal year, 2011-12. That was down from $132,093 the previous year.
Supervisors had been pleased with the service FRED provided, saying they were good partners. But the service was underutilized, with FRED officials estimating that the county was subsidizing each $1 ride with about $20 from taxpayers.
The RFI spawned only two responses. Both would have required county funding at least as costly as service that had been provided by FRED.
Both companies offer services similar to FRED, with fixed-route, flex-route and on-demand service. And both would heavily rely on subsidies from the county for a major portion of their funding to cover costs, as FRED did, with fares to riders kept at between 50-cents and $4.00.
~ Virginia Regional Transit located in Purcellville, is a 20-year-old non-profit business serving 13 percent of the state with transit facilities in Culpeper, Fishersville and the Eastern Shore.
~ MV Transportation, Inc., located in Dallas, Texas, has 20 years of service including in Northern Virginia and the Hampton Roads area, along with service in 27 other states and Washington, DC, British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Saudi Arabia.
SUPERVISOR DISCUSSION & DECISION
Joe Grzeika said, “I was hoping to see some kind of result where we would cut that county contribution substantially and pick it up in the rates. And that’s not the case.”
Ruby Brabo concurred, saying, “I agree. I was shocked. I totally agree with most of what Mr. Grzeika has stated. And I guess I don’t understand this process. Why are we only hearing back from companies that would be subsidized? Why are we not hearing back from companies that don’t need to be subsidized?”
Dale Sisson “I guess that’s up to the ones who didn’t respond to explain.” He added, “I think the way we worded the RFI was wide open and we encouraged that the rate structure would encourage the business operations. One of them had trips for 50-cents and $1.00. That’s the problem with the option we had so far. If FRED charged what I would consider a reasonable fare to make up the revenue, they easily would have been able to bring that down to an affordable level. We had a rate with FRED who wasn’t able to honor that rate going forward. We found that out. The RFI we drafted encouraged a business structure to support the operation.”
Sisson suggested, “If we were to go out with an RFP, I think you would specifically state this would not be a subsidized system and the rate structure must support its operation.
County Administrator Travis Quesenberry agreed, saying, “That’s one thing you can do with an RFP. It’s much more specific, much more detailed, and you can establish the specific criteria to make your selection.”
While Supervisors are hoping that the RFP will spawn some results, Grzeika did not want to raise expectations, adding, “I’m not sure, given what we got back this time, if an RFP is going to have any success.” Sisson agreed, but added, “I think we were committed to investigating it.” He added, “And as Joe pointed out, you’ve just got to be open to whatever comes back from that. I think if we do that, we’ve done due diligence to testing the waters and the options are that are out there. We’ve tried to find the options that would be available to our citizens that we can facilitate that would minimize or eliminate the general tax burden on the greater population.”
Tim Smith, Director of Parks & Recreation, who reported on the responses, added, “I would say that at least in one aspect the committee did help some of the community with the establishment of the Rappahannock Area Agency on Aging coordinating with Social Services. There was a bond that was formed from that.”
PUBLIC TRANSIT TOO COSTLY IN RURAL AREAS
Smith previously told the Board he could find no rural communities that have a successful mass transit option.
When FRED service was initiated several years ago in King George, it was mostly paid for with grant funding. But as grant funding diminished, county costs escalated, as it become clear that cost-efficient, or even geographically-efficient, mass transit as a transportation model does not work in rural areas. Bringing FRED bus service to the county was an experiment that failed because low ridership and annually increasing cost made it too expensive for Supervisors to continue to pump tax payer dollars into the venture.