Calvert County will continue running its own local bus system, and senior citizens and disabled individuals will continue to pay whatever they can afford to ride the buses.
On Tuesday, the Calvert County Board of Commissioners rejected a proposal to study whether the county bus system could be better operated by a private company. Though it has been estimated that bus service privatization could save the county $250,000 a year, individual commissioners voiced concern that such a move could prove costly to those who can afford it least: senior citizens and the disabled.
Though no formal plan for privatization was on the table, the commissioners' concern was that a private company looking to maximize profit would not subsidize transportation for those individuals, many of whom rely on county buses to get to doctor's appointments or for basic transportation.
Commissioner David F. Hale (R-Owings) moved to deny the request for a study of private service. "It targets a population," he said. "There's no other place for these people to go."
Hale did say, however, that he generally supports privatization. Ironically, it was the commissioners' request of the county Budget Review Committee to explore privatization of county services that raised the topic of privatized bus service in the first place.
The committee recommended that a consultant be hired to help county officials explore options involved in the privatization of bus service. According to a memo from Jule Sugarman, chairman of the committee, those options would range "from serving only a few people to replacing the entire county system. We estimate the cost of a consultant to be under $10,000, as compared to potential annual savings of $250,000."
About $150,000 of those savings reportedly would come from not having to buy new equipment each year.
The county spends about $800,000 annually to run Calvert County Public Transportation. There were 95,460 trips made on public buses during the county's last fiscal year, from July 1, 1998, to June 30, 1999.
A one-way bus fare costs $1.25. However, 50 to 60 percent of the riders do not pay full price. Disabled individuals who get a pass from the county are able to ride for free, and senior citizens are exempt from the fare. Those individuals, however, may make a donation if they wish. Children age 6 or younger also ride for free, and students may ride at the reduced fare of 75 cents.
Calvert County Public Transportation, which had only two buses about a decade ago, now operates seven bus routes, plus two special buses that give seniors door-to-door service to medical appointments.
It was a fear that those riders, as well as other needy individuals, might lose the service that prompted commissioners to unanimously reject hiring the consultant.
"We're not looking to upset the apple cart," said Commissioner Patrick M. Buehler (D-St. Leonard).