Bus services could be axed at council meeting

The Maricopa City Council will meet this Tuesday to vote on the future of the Maricopa Max and Comet bus services.
The city initially rolled out the Max nearly three years ago, with three routes daily to the Valley.
However, in an effort to increase ridership the city restructured the bus services in October, cutting the Max back to two routes a day and instituting a new local circular service, the Comet.
After the changes were implemented, ridership on the Max shrank from about 100 rider trips a day to only 25.
The Comet started slowly with less than one rider-trip a day, but has since slowly grown to about nine trips a day. A trip defined by the city is a one-way ride on its bus service.
In November, several councilmembers were critical of the service, including Julia Gusse, Marvin Brown and Alan Marchione.
“People need to start using this service or we will need to discontinue it,” Gusse said at the time. “We can’t keep spending money on a program that is failing when the city is bleeding financially.”
At the upcoming council meeting, members will decide if they wish to reapply for a federal 5311 Rural Transportation Grant Program that pays for $560,523 of the bus service’s $786,906 operating costs. The city pays the balance of $226,383.
“I voted to not renew the service originally last year, but changed my mind due to the passionate pleas of community members,” Councilmember Carl Diedrich said in November. “It is going to be important as we evaluate to look at the level of commitment for these programs in the community. The tough part of that evaluation is it must be completed in January, when we only have three months of data on two relatively new services.”
If funding is not renewed the service would end Aug. 31.
For the new funding cycle, staff is presenting council with the options of termination, continuation of both services or continuation of just one of the services.
If the city council decides to cancel the services, Maricopa may have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars back to the federal government.
The city was awarded roughly $600,000 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds in September 2009 to facilitate public transit.
To date the city has spent $508,435 on the purchase of two buses and a park and ride lot.
According city transportation manager Chris Salas, if the city were to cancel the service, it would have to pay back the $258,416 spent to build the park and ride facility, return the two buses it purchased for an additional $250,019, and pay for depreciation on the vehicles.
In total, the city would have to pay back roughly $332,400.
The city could have canceled the contract to construct the park-and-ride lot, but it would not have made sense to do so, according to city spokeswoman LaTricia Woods.
“What you see taking place on-site is merely the assembling of prefabricated structures. If the contract had been canceled 30 days ago we would have had to pay the designer/builder and ADOT and would have nothing to show for it,” she said.
In addition to deciding on the future of bus services, the city council will look at approving a festival transition plan and a facility use policy for the Copa Center.
The council regular session will begin at 7 p.m. at the Maricopa Unified School District Office, 44150 W. Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway.