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Nearly the entire transportation conversation at Thursday’s League of Women Voters town hall meeting focused on funding the county’s transportation services.

On Thursday night, the League of Women Voters of Calvert County hosted its third town hall meeting in its series, this time focusing on the county’s transportation services, or lack thereof.

“It’s quite an eye-opening experience to see how it actually can run, what the limitations are because of funding and cost,” said Maureen Hoffman, director of Calvert County Department of Community Resources, which houses the county’s transportation services.

The focus for the evening was determining what the current system is, if there may be a need for expansion, and if so, if expansion is feasible, Sue Bilek, who was leading the discussion Thursday night, explained.

Hoffman said that over the next year, the county will be working with the state on an updated transportation study for the county.

After explaining that the county’s public transportation system is a grant-funded system, Sandy Wobbleton, Calvert County’s Transportation Services supervisor, said the funding is for specific groups.

Transportation Services’ budget is “just over” $1 million, Wobbleton said, adding that about 60 percent of the budget is combined state and federal funding with a 40 percent match from the county. For the last five years, funds from federal and state government have not increased, she said.

“I ask for additional funds every year. For the last five years we’ve been flat-funded,” Wobbleton said.

The department just received its notification for its fiscal 2014 funding from the federal and state governments and there still is no increase, Wobbleton said.

Rather than the grant funding supporting the whole of Calvert County, Hoffman explained that in rural areas, the funding targets specific groups, such as senior citizens and people with disabilities. In addition, she said they also look at priority areas “and piece together what the consultant considers to be most effective and impactful use of our bus system to reach the underserved or those most in need of transportation.”

Wobbleton added, “For Calvert County, as far as all of the ... locally operated transit systems within Maryland that are all funded by [the Maryland Transit Administration], we’re basically the lowest funded and smallest system, just about.”

“We would like to expand, obviously, all of our service, but again, because of the funding” and no increased funding, “we’re pretty much kind of stuck with making the best of what we have,” Wobbleton said.

Hoffman then said she would ask the question on everyone’s mind: “Why don’t you just raise the fares and then we could have more buses?”

But it’s not that simple, Hoffman said. She explained that the increased revenue from the increased fares would reduce the amount of funding from the federal government.

“If you talk about raising fares, it doesn’t get you the direct benefit of having additional revenue because we have to share that revenue with the funding source, which is the federal government,” Hoffman said.

Lusby resident Rhonda Crawley asked if developers throughout the county are “willing to also put in resources for transportation for their employees because that would be another way of approaching” the need.

Hoffman said that a few years ago, Calvert tried to do something similar for that with the Calvert County Industrial Park on Route 231, but “the disappointing thing was … three people responded” to a brief survey about expanding the services into the park.

“So, there’s a perceived need, and then there’s an actual need,” Hoffman said. “And the problem is we can’t commit to provide service unless people are going to commit to use the service.”

Wobbleton said, “We know absolutely, 100 percent that there is an unmet need. It’s just, OK, how do you target it? And, once you do, how do you resolve it, is what the problem is.”

When the suggestion for placing ads on the buses was raised, Hoffman and Wobbleton explained that the department has approached the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners with proposals, but the commissioners voted against them.

Wobbleton said the other problem with it is that advertisements on the buses wouldn’t generate enough revenue for additional bus routes and because they are MTA buses, the buses must be rotated.

The other “tricky” thing, Hoffman said, is that if an advertiser buys an ad on a bus for so many days, and the bus breaks down or is in an accident and it has to be pulled off the road, then some of the money would have to be refunded. In addition, to place the ad on the bus, the bus has to be out of service for a period of time.

Resident Bob Poling said that to meet the county’s needs, the county is going to have to implement its own bus service.

“We can’t wait for federal grants to come down and do this,” Poling said. “If you want this sort of thing, the county government is going to have to bite the bullet, raise the money to do it, and they would control and they would be able to meet our needs much more than the state or federal funds.”

For more information on the county’s transportation services, bus routes and schedules, fares, and bus rules and regulations, go to the public transportation web page on the county’s website at www.co.cal.md.us/index.aspx?NID=130.

ascott@somdnews.com