By Andreas Butler
For Hometown News
Votran is expecting a $1.1million shortfall in its projected 2013-14 budget.
The Volusia County Council hosted a public meeting on the matter in the Volusia Room at the Daytona Beach International Airport on June 24.
County officials, 16 mayors, Votran personnel, municipal officials and residents attended.
Rising fuel costs, the demand for more routes and providing timely service during special events are all challenges for Votran.
The lack of savings is cited as the main reason for the budget shortfall.
"We have been challenged with a number of things, but mainly the shortfall is due to us operating off carry over from previous budgets," said Steven Sherrer, Votran general manager. "We have been able to save money from previous years. That carry over will soon be gone. The cost to provide service is increasing."
Votran's operational budget for 2012-13 is $20 million while the budget for 2013-14 is expected to be $21 million.
It receives $7.4 million from the county's general fund.
Votran also gets funds from the federal and state governments, advertising, fares and miscellaneous revenue. Each route costs Votran more than $303,000 per year.
Votran was created in 1975 as the county's public transportation system. It started with four trackless trolleys and 44 paratransit vehicles.
Today it has 228 employees and is a division of McDonald Transit of Fort Worth, Texas. Votran has 55 buses, four trolleys and 44 paratransit vehicles. It covers a 1,200 square mile service area.
Eighty-one percent of Votran riders have no access to a vehicle and 85 percent earn less than $29,000 per year.
"It's just not about money. Votran is critical to our county," Volusia County Manager Jim Dinneen said. "There are so many people that don't make a lot of money and Votran is their only source of transportation."
Despite its budget shortfall, Votran is seeing an increase in riders but not enough increase in revenue.
"The fair revenue and revenue that we are generating to offset those costs isn't increasing at the same rate," Mr. Sherrer said. "It's becoming more expensive to provide service and we are running out of carryover from previous budgets."
The increase in special rates such as all day passes and 30 day passes is also increasing.
"The one day pass is $3 to board the bus as much as you want for a 24 hour period. The use of those passes is increasing. That means we generate less revenue per boarding," Mr. Sherrer said.
There are several options being considered to address the budget shortfall.
"The options that are on the table for the County Council are multiple. Not one thing can solve the issue, it will take multiple solutions," county spokesman Dave Byron said. "We have talked about increasing rates, cutting costs and raising additional revenue through a sale tax of some kind. We get more revenue or we cut through."
Votran will also face a new challenge in 2014 when Sun Rail opens a train station in Debary.
"We will provide access to the station. It will be funded by the Florida Department of Transportation, but that will be a small amount," Mr. Sherrer said. "The challenge will be providing a service which people can utilize because it's going to be limited."
Residents showed their support, but also addressed concerns at the meeting.
"I use Votran. I like that we have night and Sunday service," Scott Larsen said. "Whatever the county decides, be aware of those with disabilities."
"We need to keep Votran going to keep our restaurants, hospitals and hotels fully operational," Skip Keaning said. "I don't think we want another tax to do so, but we do need the services."
"Votran is a bedrock of our community. The riders are hard working people who want to work," Robert Kelly said. "This is important to people who cannot drive."
"I always use the paratransit service. I don't want it to go away," Patricia Lipopski said. "I have used other transit systems across the state while traveling and Votran is the best."
County officials were optimistic following the meeting.
"I think we met our goal to provide a broad understanding of the challenges that Votran is facing," Mr. Byron said. "We had a lot of Votran support here. The constituents of Votran for the most part have no other options. The problem is wherever we cut we are taking transportation from those that don't have another option. It's a difficult situation. Any increase will have a significant impact on our riders."