Tough decisions ahead for BATA

John Kubal/Register: Driver Blake Azevedo helps a passenger onto a BATA bus equipped to accommodate wheelchairs. In fiscal year 2018, BATA provided a total of 4,297 rides to non-ambulatory passengers who have disabilities. Total one-way trip ridership was about 150,000.

Possible service, fee changes due to funding shortfalls; Feb. 15 meeting planned

BROOKINGS – The Brookings Area Transit Authority, like many a federally subsidized ridership program, fights a constant battle of the budget as it pursues its mission using a variety of funds. 

BATA’s mission is “… to provide coordinated transportation services for all citizens of the Brookings area and foster independence by providing mobility options.”

When all the funding pieces don’t come together as budgeted, transit authorities such as BATA face the challenge of taking action to keep their programs viable. Oftentimes that action is cutting services, increasing ridership fees, or both.

To that end, BATA management and its board of directors is calling a “BATA Community Meeting/Service Review” open to the public. It will be held at 1 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15, at the First United Methodist Church Community Life Center. 

“We’re taking a look at what the community’s needs are, what we can financially sustain,” BATA Executive Director Brenda Schweitzer explained. “We have some tough decisions to make. And right now we are looking at reviewing our weekend service.”

Additionally, the $2 fee for an advance reservation in town will be looked at. That basic fee has held since about 2006. Schweitzer noted that Watertown raised its fee in July 2018, and Pierre did the same in January.

The 2019 annual budget (BATA operates on a fiscal year that runs from October through September) of about $1.6 million is a moving target, Schweitzer said. 

“We don’t know for sure what our fuel’s going to be, what our wages are going to be, how many people we are going to be needing,” she added. “That’s a target.”

However, federal, state, city, county and contract dollars are pretty much set as are funds from the United Way.

With 40 percent of its funds coming from the Federal Highway Bill and other funds coming from state coffers, local governments and local agencies, BATA fare revenue must equal at least 15 percent of its total budget.

“You can have a mix of solids and variables,” Schweitzer said. “We’re taking a look. We’re not the only community that is running short of dollars to remain operational. We’re not the lone ranger here. However, reality is hitting a lot of us. What are we going to do to buffer this shortfall? Something has got to give.

“What we’re doing here is trying to analyze what we can do to sustain a viable program with the least amount of impact on our community.”

BATA’s fleet of 28 vehicles provides about 150,000 one-way trips per fiscal year within a radius of 50 miles from Brookings. Its hours are 5 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Weekend ridership is about 4 percent of BATA’s total. And many of those trips are of a social nature versus the necessity of many of the trips made during the week. 

“If we are going to make some tough decisions on how are we going to sustain our program being with the shortfall, you know that we’ve got to cut service,” Schweitzer said. 

She explained that on one occasion in the past, when federal funding was cut by 30 percent, evening service was eliminated; “and it took us several years to bring that back. But we had to do something that was going to keep the rest of the service viable.”  

Public input wanted

Those tough decisions Schweitzer cited will come in the wake of the BATA Community Meeting/Service Review. Schweitzer said a letter detailing the meeting’s issues is going to clinics, churches, Advance, social services, and “some of those we have contracts with.”

The letter notes BATA’s “substantial growth in: Rides provided for all demographics; increased area served; miles driven; employment numbers; vehicles in service; and economic impact to the communities.”

Also noted was that while federal funding to rural transit systems such as BATA have remained level, they “represent an actual decrease when you factor in our growth.” Additionally, “State funding has been minimal, with continued requests for increased funding by S.D. transit providers. The balance must come locally.”

At the meeting, BATA will explain its present situation relative to costs and services and what is being considered. The invitation to attend and participate in the decision-making process is extended to its “passengers, policy makers, business collaborators and nonprofit affiliates.”

“But at the end of the day we have to come up with 15 percent of our total expenses generated by fare revenue,” Schweitzer reiterated. “That’s just a requirement of the program. How do we come up with that?”

Anyone needing a ride to the meeting is requested to call BATA at 692-2222.

Contact John Kubal at [email protected] 


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