Ben Franklin Transit general manager Tim Fredrickson is resigning after 18 years of leading the agency.
Fredrickson leaves the organization in what’s described as a “mutual separation,” effective Dec. 31, for health and personal reasons, according to a news release.
Fredrickson will receive a severance package paying him for six months, even though his contract only called for him to be paid for four months, said Pasco Mayor Matt Watkins, chairman of the transit authority’s board.
He was paid $121,092 annually.
The board respected and was supportive of Fredrickson’s decision, Watkins said.
“Tim’s done an incredible amount for transit in our community the last 18 years,” Watkins told the Herald. “It’s kind of a bittersweet sort of thing.
He’s made a big impact on the Tri-Cities, and I’m going to miss him.” Fredrickson could not be reached for comment. Watkins declined to elaborate on Fredrickson’s health problems. Fredrickson is expected to take off much of the time before the end of the year, using time off he has saved up, Watkins said.
The transit authority provides 4.5 million passenger boardings a year on its fixed-route, Dial-A-Ride, van pool, shared taxi and special event services, the release said.
It serves an area of 240,000 residents including the cities of Kennewick, Pasco, Richland, West Richland, Prosser, Benton City and parts of unincorporated Benton and Franklin counties. It employs almost 300 people.
The news release announcing Fredrickson’s departure credited him for three election victories during his tenure, twice annexing new areas for service and increasing the sales tax collected to make up for decreased state funding.
The transit authority recently expanded its night taxi service and added Sunday taxis, which offer call-ahead door-to-door service for $3. It was able to fund the service based on better returns from its six-tenths of a percent sales tax, and because the population of its service area has grown large enough that it can get grants directly from the federal government instead of having them pass through the state.
But combined ridership on Ben Franklin Transit’s services was down 10.1 percent between October 2012 and October of this year, according to a presentation at a recent board meeting. Service development manager Kathy McMullen said several factors caused the decrease, including fewer people using transit because of falling gas prices. A one-way fare increase to $1.50 from $1.25 also played a part, as well as a change in the way the transit authority counts riders that was made necessary by federal regulations due to the increase in market size.
The rider count is likely more accurate now, she said.
“They were good before, but they are better now,” she said. Ridership should eventually return to levels before the price increase, McMullen said.
“We figured there would be a 7 percent reduction, and it would probably come back within three years,” she said. “We think it will.”
Watkins said the ridership decline did not factor into Fredrickson’s resignation.
“It’s not something we need to take action on specifically, but it’s something we will be watching,” he said of ridership.
The board expects to appoint an interim manager at a special meeting at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Watkins said. The appointee will both manage the transit system and help find a permanent replacement.
“We want to make sure transit has leadership as soon as possible,” he said.
w Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom