York County bus system draws scrutiny

04/07/2014 10:59 PM

04/08/2014 7:12 AM

Some York County Council members raised concerns over funding for the county’s subsidized bus system during Monday night’s meeting, calling into question the program’s efficiency.

The county contracts with the Council on Aging to operate York County Access, which provides individual transportation for the county’s elderly and frail and those without personal vehicles.

Residents pay $2.50 for rides to work, medical offices, shopping centers and other essential places.

Councilman Joe Cox has been an outspoken opponent of Access because it heavily subsidizes individual fares, which he claims cost an average of $29 per ride.

Cox displayed a photo he said he took of an Access bus that stopped outside a Bojangles restaurant for half an hour as an example of government waste.

“I won’t be supporting this product anymore,” said Cox, voting against motions to allow program managers to apply for federal and state grants and rejecting bids to replace four buses.

Concerns over funding for Access come during the program’s busiest year to date. In 2010 and 2011, the program reported an average demand of 250 trips per month. From 2012 to 2013, average monthly ridership demand exceeded 400 trips.

The program relies on a combination of grants including federal funds that cover half of all operational costs. County funding typically accounts for a third of costs. In the current fiscal year, the total budget for the program is just shy of $200,000.

Councilman Bruce Henderson supported Cox, citing a general unease over continued reliance on federal and state grants.

While Chairman Britt Blackwell was one of five councilmen who ultimately voted in favor of allowing the program to apply for grants and replacing aging buses, he also expressed fiscal concerns.

“I’m keeping a close eye on this,” said Blackwell, adding that he is “100 percent for the intent” of Access, but that the county needs to be “diligent” in ensuring funds are used efficiently.

An eye doctor by trade, Blackwell said he sees the value in a program that provides the elderly with a means of obtaining health care services.

Councilman Curwood Chappell said that while he understood Cox’s concerns, the safety net program is essential for those “down on their luck.”

“I can’t turn my back on the destitute,” said Chappell. He added that many seniors are unable to pay the full price of private car service for medical appointments.

Reservations for rides must be made in advance, and some unincorporated areas of Lake Wylie and Fort Mill are not actively serviced by the program. Access staff have indicated they try to accommodate as many riders as possible, including those outside the service area.

Despite a series of winter storms this year that made travel treacherous for drivers, the Access program continued to operate limited service in Rock Hill for those seeking dialysis treatment.

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