Lextran considering changes to jobs bus route

kward1@herald-leader.comFebruary 19, 2013 

Workers boarded a Lextran bus after their shifts at the Kentucky Clinic on South Limestone late Monday night.

MATT GOINS — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

  • Lextran's expense per rider

    Lextran must subsidize the cost of running its routes. In January, the subsidy averaged $3.86 per passenger. Here are some examples.

    ROUTE SUBSIDIES PER PASSENGER
    Mercer Road/Citation Blvd. jobs bus: $77.70
    Keeneland/Airport route: $53.29
    Nicholasville Road jobs bus: $47.48
    Nicholasville express: $18.47
    Hamburg: $4.81
    Richmond Road: $3.03
    Versailles Road: $2.02
    North Broadway: $1.96

Lextran is trying to decide whether to cut or make changes to two bus routes that take hundreds of people to and from work on the night shift.

The jobs bus, which runs from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., is a subscription-based service that picks up and drops off riders at the bus stops nearest their workplaces and homes.

Lextran has 576 people enrolled to ride the three overnight buses that service workplaces along Nicholasville Road and in the Citation Boulevard/Mercer Road area, which includes employees of UPS and Amazon. Many of them work lower-wage third-shift jobs.

Lextran spokeswoman Jill Barnett said the agency has sent a letter to jobs bus riders, saying Lextran is evaluating ways to cut costs for the service while still helping ensure that they have a way to work.

"We want to do everything we can to try to preserve the service," she said.

Some people who ride the bus said they don't know how they would get to and from work if the service were eliminated.

"If they drop us, we'd be in a mess," said Chapple Lewis, who rides the bus from her home on Eastland Parkway to her job at the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital. "I don't want to mess my job up because of transportation."

Barnett said that while Lextran has not decided whether to make changes, the service is costly and inefficient.

The fewer the passengers, the less revenue for Lextran. That means Lextran must chip in more to cover the cost of the driver, fuel, maintenance and related expenses.

In January, Lextran's average subsidy per passenger was $3.86. The average subsidy per person on the jobs bus that serves Nicholasville Road was $47.48, and the average subsidy per person on the Citation Boulevard and Mercer Road bus was $77.70.

Barnett said the jobs bus — a service bus that started in 2006 — made 1,113 passenger trips in January.

Lextran as a whole made 321,854 passenger trips last month, excluding a bus that serves the university campus.

Since 2009, a federal grant has provided half of the funding for the jobs bus service. Now, the grant structure has changed, putting the funding in jeopardy, she said.

"I imagine that we're going to have to look at it very seriously," Barnett said, adding that she does not know when a decision would be made. If Lextran did decide to cut the jobs buses, Barnett said it would provide "lots of public notice" beforehand. The Lextran board would have to approve any changes.

Barnett said Lextran officials are asking questions such as "Can we change a route or change the schedule? Can we work with a contractor?"

Meanwhile, she said Lextran is taking over management of the city's van pool program from the Lexington Bluegrass Mobility Office, and a van pool might be one option for the jobs bus riders if their bus routes are cut.

At 11:30 p.m. Monday, about a half-dozen people waited to be picked up at the bus shelter outside Kentucky Clinic on South Limestone.

Several expressed concern about the possibility of the route being eliminated and wondered about how they would get to and from work.

Darryl McCulley, who works in UK's environmental services department, said he'd have to "walk, run or slide" back to his home on Sixth Street if that happened.

"God's going to provide a way," he said.

Paige Beam, who works as a patient transporter at UK, said she's already arranged to come in and get off work an hour earlier because of uncertainty over the future of the jobs bus.

Leaving at 10 p.m. will cause her to lose her shift differential, but she said she will be assured of being able to catch a regular Lextran bus to her home on the north side of town.

Lewis rides a regular Lextran bus to work but clocks out at 11 p.m., too late to ride the regular route home.

"All of us are worried to death about it," she said. "You can't just up and say, 'Change my shift.' They don't do that."

"... We don't make a heck of a lot of money. If we did, we'd have our own vehicle."

Jobs bus riders pay either $1 per trip or $30 for a monthly pass. Senior citizens and the disabled can get a monthly pass for $15.

People must apply to ride the jobs bus, and Lextran verifies their work hours with the employer.

Two buses serve the Nicholasville Road corridor, picking up and dropping off passengers at UK's Kentucky Clinic, Central Baptist Hospital and Wal-Mart.

A third bus that travels the Mercer Road and Citation Boulevard area was added in 2011. It picks up and drops off passengers who work at employers including UPS and Amazon.

Barnett said the cost per rider is so much higher for the jobs bus because there are fewer passengers. And unlike regular routes where passengers switch buses to get closer to their destination, the jobs driver is taking individual passengers as close to their homes as possible.

There are also longer periods of time between pickups and dropoffs, Barnett said.

"There's a lot of dead time," she said. "It's not efficient. When there is that dead time, they're still being paid."


Lextran's expense per rider

Lextran must subsidize the cost of running its routes. In January, the subsidy averaged $3.86 per passenger. Here are some examples.

ROUTE SUBSIDIES PER PASSENGER
Mercer Road/Citation Blvd. jobs bus: $77.70
Keeneland/Airport route: $53.29
Nicholasville Road jobs bus: $47.48
Nicholasville express: $18.47
Hamburg: $4.81
Richmond Road: $3.03
Versailles Road: $2.02
North Broadway: $1.96

Karla Ward: (859) 231-3314. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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