Tri-Rail may be forced to cut half its weekday routes, eliminate weekend service
By Risa Polansky
Facing drastic funding cuts, Tri-Rail could be forced to nearly halve its weekday service and eliminate weekend trains.
And without a dedicated stream of funding, the South Florida commuter rail system could only maintain that level of service for up to two years before facing further reductions, says Joseph Giulietti, executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.
With county governments preparing for deep budget cuts in the upcoming fiscal year, Palm Beach County plans to lower its Tri-Rail contribution from $4.1 million to less than $1.6 million, the minimum allowed, Mr. Giulietti said.
And because a pact between the three counties and the state requires each county give equal support, Miami-Dade and Broward would each also drop to $1.6 million.
Further compounding the issue, a smaller payout from the local governments would yield a smaller match from the state.
The cuts would mean running about 30 trains every weekday instead of 50 and killing weekend service altogether, effective Oct. 5, Mr. Giulietti said.
The transportation authority could keep that up for a maximum two years before potentially cutting more, he said, stressing the gravity of the situation.
"There's no posturing. This is not a joke."
The plan is to press Tallahassee lawmakers for a dedicated stream of funds for the transit system, which runs 72 miles from Palm Beach County through Miami-Dade and carried 4 million passengers last year, 22.9% more than in 2007.
Supporters are seeking a legislator to sponsor an amendment that would tack $2 onto the state's rental car surcharge and mandate it be distributed where it's collected to counties within a regional transportation authority.
A grassroots campaign, Fund or Fail, kicked off this week.
At the same time, a potential Tri-Rail fare hike is on the table.
The transportation authority board is to hold a hearing April 24 on the proposed 25% across-the-board increase. It would be the first hike since 1995.
The funding cuts and fare raise would come amidst ongoing ridership growth.
Counts toward the end of last month looked to be up about 8% over March 2008, which was a record-breaker at the time, Mr. Giulietti said.
He noted that the impending county cuts to Tri-Rail would come amid strained county transit budgets and local service reductions.
"This is not something the counties are just looking to impose on us," he said. "They've already made cuts to their transit systems."
The counties helped Tri-Rail avoid a similar jam last year.
Bracing for a tight budget, a Palm Beach County administrator pushed commissioners to slice the county's Tri-Rail contribution.
The ripple effect to the other counties and the state match would have meant reduced weekday service and no weekend trains.
But elected officials ignored the recommendation, agreeing instead to a 10% funding cut. The lighter hit allowed the authority to maintain existing service by making internal budget adjustments.