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CDTA cutting 50 jobs to fill budget gap

CDTA cutting 50 jobs to fill budget gap

The Capital District Transportation Authority is eliminating 50 jobs in its 2012-13 budget, and ther

The Capital District Transportation Authority is eliminating 50 jobs in its 2012-13 budget, and there are likely to be service cuts.

The reduction from 700 to 650 employees helps close a multimillion-dollar budget gap for the regional mass transit agency, and authority officials hope to do it without layoffs.

The reduced workforce is likely to require more route reductions and consolidations, however, CDTA leaders said Wednesday.

“We have some very interesting challenges ahead as we confront today’s realities,” Executive Director Carm Basile said.

Among those challenges: More people are riding the bus, with ridership likely to top 14.5 million boardings for the 2011-12 budget year. Higher gas prices are persuading more people to ride, leading to the most significant ridership gains CDTA has seen since a fare increase in 2009.

“Demand is exceeding capacity, and the budget is crafted so tightly we have little ability to respond,” Basile said.

The CDTA board, meeting Wednesday at the Rensselaer train station, adopted a spending plan for the fiscal year starting April 1 that totals $74.4 million. That’s down about 1 percent from this year’s spending.

The new budget is balanced in large measure with job cuts. So far, the cuts have been through attrition, not filling vacancies when drivers, mechanics and other employees resign or retire.

Maintaining service with the staff reductions will mean different work schedules for some drivers, and there will be administrative reorganizations, Basile said.

“It’s difficult for employees, and it’s difficult for managers,” he said.

“We had to cut and trim and right-size the organization, and people are not going to be happy,” said board member Georgeanna Lynch of Saratoga Springs, chairwoman of the Planning and Stakeholder Relations Committee.

State operating aid, which was frozen for the last several years, will increase by $2 million, to $31.2 million, under the state budget agreed to this week. Almost the entire increase will go toward anticipated higher costs for diesel fuel.

“Without that $2 million, we would have a much more difficult problem, but we can’t keep doing this every year,” Basile said. “Only 20 to 22 percent of our revenue comes from our customers. The rest is kind of piece-mealed every year.”

State funding can vary from year to year based on decisions by the governor and legislators, he said — and no funding increases are expected from the federal government in the foreseeable future.

“We need to develop more stable sources of funding,” Basile told the board.

There was no discussion this year about another fare increase, though board members acknowledged it will have to be discussed in the future. The basic fare was increased from $1 to $1.50 in 2009, causing a 10-percent drop in ridership the authority is only now recovering from.

“It’s the people who can least afford it who feel it the most,” said Norm Miller, a Schenectady County representative on the board.

The past fiscal year has seen the first significant increase in ridership since 2009, with ridership for the year up 8 percent; it was up 22 percent in February, most likely due to rising gas prices.

That creates a different problem, Basile said.

“Our issue is system capacity. As buses near capacity limits, we have little ability to respond with additional service,” he said.

The Washington Avenue corridor, between downtown Albany and the Crossgates-University at Albany area, particularly needs more capacity to meet growing ridership, Basile said.

“In the near term, we are unable to respond with added capacity,” he said.

He said CDTA is pleased with the growth of its pioneering BusPlus express service on Central Avenue since it was launched a year ago.

CDTA provides bus service in Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady counties.

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