Ben Franklin Transit officials expect few changes to budget, services

By Paula Horton, Tri-City HeraldOctober 11, 2012 

Ben Franklin Transit officials aren't expecting any major changes to next year's budget or services.

"There's a lot up in the air, especially on the grant side," said Kathy McMullen, the transit's service development manager. "What we're putting in this budget this year is keeping everything flat."

The proposed $31.7 million operating budget for 2013 will be discussed by the transit board at a special budget workshop today. The workshop starts at 5:30 p.m. and will be followed by the transit's regular board meeting at its administrative office in Richland.

The agency's main source of revenue is sales tax, McMullen said. Officials planned the 2012 budget with $23.4 million in sales tax and has forecasted to receive $24.1 million this year, or 2.7 percent more than budgeted.

The 2013 budget anticipates receiving about $24.4 million in sales tax revenue.

Revenue from fares is expected to be down about 6 percent from the budgeted $4.3 million, so transit officials have set next year's budget to match the forecasted revenue of $4 million.

No state operating grants were put in next year's budget and federal operating grants are budgeted at $3.2 million. McMullen said a new federal transportation bill was passed, but no appropriations have been approved, so officials aren't sure what the grant picture will look like.

Salary and wages are budgeted to increase by almost 18 percent over this year's forecasted expenses, but benefits costs are down almost 12 percent.

Overall expenses are projected to be about $210,000 less than anticipated revenue.

Officials plan to hire an outside agency to do a salary and compensation study, and they are conducting a ridership survey.

"Ridership has been going down over the last few years," McMullen said, attributing some of the downturn to reduced service and a slowed economy.

The night service, which provides a demand response, curb-to-curb service in the Tri-Cities and West Richland from 7 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday, is the only service to see increased use this year.

Night service is up 5.6 percent. Fixed route service is down 4.7 percent, Dial-A-Ride is down 5.2 percent and vanpool is down 6 percent.

The two services seeing the biggest drop in use are the taxi feeder service, which is down nearly 20 percent, and the Finley/South Kennewick service, off 37 percent.

Some questions on the surveys include finding out where riders get their news, how often they ride the bus or use a transit service, and where they were going when they needed to use the transit.

Survey forms are available to riders on each transit service. The ridership survey also can be taken at bft.org.

-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; phorton@tricityherald.com

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