July 24, 2013 - In an effort to serve its riders more effectively and potentially save some money, the North Oakland Transportation Authority (NOTA) will reduce its geographic service area by approximately 50 percent this fall.
Currently, NOTA transports its riders anywhere within a 448-square-mile service area.
Starting Oct. 1, that area will be cut to 223 square miles as a result of a 8-0 vote by the NOTA board last week.
"This will reduce the (number of) time-consuming trips that are costing us money and fuel . . . and (taking) the spots of other riders that we have waiting," explained NOTA Director Lynn Gustafson.
Gustafson noted this change will only affect about 10 percent or less of its rides, which works out to approximately 300 rides per month. "We've always kind of gone like 15 miles outside of our (township) borders," she said.
NOTA provides transportation to senior citizens, disabled individuals and low-income folks living in Oxford, Addison and Orion townships. The agency charges $1 each way for rides within the three townships and $2 each way for destinations outside the townships, but still within NOTA's service area.
The biggest reductions to NOTA's service area will take place in the north and to the east.
To the north, the service area border will change from the City of Lapeer to Davison Lake Rd. To the east, the border will change from Van Dyke Rd. to Dequindre Rd.
Those border lines correspond to Oakland County's boundaries and the borders of Oxford and Addison townships.
Gustafson explained to the board that the current northern and eastern borders contain "hard-to-reach areas" that result in "time-consuming trips" and consist of roads that are "difficult" for NOTA vehicles to travel on.
"There are a lot of dirt roads that cause a lot of maintenance issues," she said.
There will be a small reduction to the southwestern border of NOTA's service area as well. The Waterford and Keego Harbor areas will be eliminated and Telegraph Rd. will be the new border.
NOTA will also no longer transport people to Royal Oak Beaumont Hospital or McLaren Lapeer Regional Medical Center.
In a memo to the NOTA board, Gustafson explained these facilities are "used infrequently" by riders, but when they are, it ties up resources for quite a while.
"One trip takes one driver four hours because the distance is so far, the driver needs to wait for the rider," she wrote. "This is far too inefficient for our operations and Beaumont has not provided funding to NOTA in years."
"Taking one person all that way for $2 doesn't seem like it's very effective," Gustafson told this reporter. "I feel like it's a waste of money for us."
Gustafson made it clear NOTA is not telling anyone within the three townships that they can no longer use the system.
"We're not reducing eligibility. We're reducing destinations," she explained. "It still encompasses (riders from Oxford, Addison and Orion). We only take people from those areas. It's just a matter of where we take them to."
Gustafson noted that NOTA will continue driving riders to and from Troy Beaumont Hospital. NOTA will also still transport two existing riders who receive dialysis treatments at a clinic on Van Dyke Rd. They will be considered "grandfathered in."
Gustafson believes the main thing this service area reduction will do is allow NOTA to give more rides to more people.
"NOTA will be able to service more individuals instead of putting them on wait lists," she wrote in her memo to the board. "NOTA has been at capacity almost every day and has had to turn away approximately 10 people a day for rides."
"I don't like to turn away people," Gustafson told this reporter.
Due to budgetary cutbacks, NOTA has two less vehicles on the road these days and Gustafson felt reducing the overall service area could help make up for that.
"(It's about) making sure that we're able to service as many people as we can in our core service area," she told the board. "That's the reason why I wanted to kind of tighten the borders up a little bit, which will free up more time for us to service more people."
Gustafson is hopeful the service area reduction can potentially save some money for NOTA in terms of fuel and maintenance costs in order to deal with the future funding losses.
NOTA is going to lose approximately 50 percent of its funding in three years. That's when it will no longer receive funds from two federal sources – the Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) program and the New Freedom grant.
"We currently have a big pot of funds that we were (previously) awarded that's going to take us through 2016," Gustafson said. "We know (the end is) looming, so I'm trying to be proactive."
Gustafson admitted she's uncertain as to whether reducing the service area will yield much of a monetary savings.
"I would guess we're going to actually see an increase in rides given," she told this reporter.
Because of that, at the very least, Gustafson said it could end up being a "wash" for NOTA.
"I don't see how it's going to cost more because we aren't driving more hours," she said. "I think it would be a savings (in terms of maintenance) because we're not driving on as many rough roads."
But to Gustafson, the service area reduction is "not so much about saving money."
"It's more about taking care of the people in the area," she said.