Charles County transportation officials have proposed cutting back the number of daily VanGO trips to Nanjemoy while adding Saturday service, a compromise designed to meet state performance standards and still satisfying demand for rural bus trips.
A few years ago, in response to requests from residents of rural areas in western Charles, the county expanded its bus service in Nanjemoy from three to five days a week. People could catch buses every two hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. each weekday. But the more frequent service was not used by enough riders and was too costly to meet state standards, officials said.
After two meetings with Nanjemoy residents this year, county transportation chief Lisa M. Quill told the Charles County commissioners Tuesday that the county should abandon four of the seven daily loops and add Saturday buses. She also proposed a daily subscription bus service to take residents to the Nanjemoy Community Center. If approved by the commissioners, the schedule change would take effect Jan. 1.
More than 170 people signed a petition seeking to retain at least two round trips per day to La Plata. In the petition, residents specifically requested transportation to laundry facilities, Civista Medical Center, Genesis Elder Care Center and Charles County Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
"Public transportation . . . is a lifeline to that community," said the Rev. Lowell H. Hancock of the Oak Grove Baptist Church in Nanjemoy. "We need that public transportation."
Quill said buses would leave Nanjemoy by 6 a.m., an hour earlier than before. "I think we've designed something that meets the needs . . . that does not cost any additional money," she said.
For the fiscal 2006 budget, the county Department of Community Services has requested $2.1 million in state and federal funding for public transportation, an increase of $342,000 from the current fiscal year. The local funding request rose by $147,000 to $711,000, officials said.
The VanGO system has experienced rapid growth over the past several years. In 1998, the year of the system's first major expansion, 38,000 people rode the buses. By last year, the volume had reached 352,000 passengers.
Other VanGO changes proposed this week include adding a third business loop for riders in Waldorf. Another change would break up the single route from Indian Head to Waldorf into two routes: one from Indian Head to La Plata and one from Bryans Road to Waldorf.
"Because [the current single route] covers so much territory, it takes over an hour and a half to get from Indian Head to Waldorf," Quill said. "We're trying to get to a more ongoing routine service, like what the rest of the routes offer."
The Friday and Saturday evening shuttle aimed at employees leaving the St. Charles Towne Center also will be cut if the transportation recommendations are adopted. Only two mall employees were regularly using the shuttle, officials said.
Commissioner W. Daniel Mayer (R-La Plata) said residents should not expect VanGO to be a taxi service. He pointed out that only 4 percent of the projected VanGO operating budget for fiscal 2006 came from bus fares. The rest of the $3.7 million would be paid by various levels of government.
"This has become an essential part of people's lives," Mayer said, adding: "It is a public transportation system, not one built for individual needs."