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Editorial: Don’t eliminate bus routes entirely

The Salisbury City Council would be making a mistake by voting for a budget with a proposal to nix transit service entirely to Spencer and East Spencer in the upcoming fiscal year.

Salisbury City Manager Lane Bailey on Tuesday introduced a budget that, among other things, would discontinue services to the neighboring towns. While it’s understandable that Bailey needs to look for places to trim expenses in preparation for decreases in tax revenue, eliminating services entirely should be avoided in a time when Americans are struggling financially and others could see their financial security worsen.

The transit system represents less than 2% of the city’s total expenditures budgeted for the current year. And Bailey has proposed a budget in which the transit system remains less than 2% of the total budget’s expenditures — $1.49 million of $82.53 million.

The bus route in question, the blue line or route No. 3, represents an even smaller portion of the city’s expenditures. Statistics provided in the city of Salisbury’s public transportation master plan, also show the blue line has lower expenditures per mile than average and more passengers per hour, too.

Of the 156,818 systemwide trips on Salisbury Transit in 2018, 6,788 were people from Spencer and 11,744 were from East Spencer.

The city’s transportation master plan further shows East Spencer residents have more trips per resident than other serviced municipalities. What’s the logic in eliminating a public service for residents who use it most?

What’s more, Salisbury Transit this month received a grant just shy of $1 million through the CARES Act for its operations during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Just as local businesses need to maintain their number of employees to have Paycheck Protection Program loans forgiven, the city of Salisbury should not in good conscience eliminate services entirely after receiving the funding.

Many factors likely led Bailey to recommend cutting transit service entirely, including the fact that East Spencer and Spencer don’t pay for the service. There are Salisbury residents who deserve better access to the transit system through the creation of new stops or improving the ones that currently exist. But we hope the City Council will find a compromise for Spencer and East Spencer that involves offering reduced availability or shorter, modified routes that still pass through the two towns.

Salisbury Transit may not be used by a majority, plurality or significant minority of local residents, but it is invaluable to those who do need it. Public transportation is a lifeline when money and the goodwill of neighbors runs out.

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