ITHACA, N.Y. — In the first of four meeting regarding TCAT’s summer route cuts, at least a dozen Tompkins County residents made two things clear: The cuts will not be easy to make and, when they’re made, will leave people without means of usual transportation.

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During a meeting at the Tompkins County Public Library Tuesday afternoon,  Matt Yarrow, service analyst at TCAT, said that around 20 cuts are being made to services throughout the county.

“Something has to give somewhere,” he said.

Here are five takeaways you need to know about the cuts from the meeting:

Why are the cuts happening?

A primary driving force behind the cuts is simply that TCAT has a lack of drivers. At least 82 drivers are needed to adequately cover all routes and leaves a little bit of wiggle room for back up buses to run. The company currently has 67 drivers and three trainees.

The extra needed drivers are being outsourced from a company in California, meaning TCAT has to pay for, not only for the drivers’s salary, but for living accommodations while they are in Ithaca.

TCAT is currently spending $33,000 a week on these drivers, something TCAT cannot continue to afford on a long-term basis.

Why can’t TCAT just hire new drivers?

That’s easier said than done.

TCAT drivers must be CDL certified to qualify to even apply for the company. While TCAT said they make recruitment efforts in and around Tompkins County, officials said it’s difficult to recruit qualified people to move to the Ithaca area. Yarrow specifically mentioned Ithaca’s high cost of living as one of the factors deterring people from moving to Ithaca.

“Beyond transit drivers, anyone that has a CDL is in high demand,” he said.

On top of that, some TCAT drivers have allegedly admitted being unsatisfied with the job.

During the meeting, Yarrow said that several drivers quit after demands for overtime and long hours last summer left many drivers feeling burned out.

Spokeswoman Patty Poist said in a statement after the meeting, “We lost 22 bus drivers since January of 2015 to present, the majority of whom left due to retirements or for other jobs,to include those moving to take jobs in other states.”

Part of the cuts is also, TCAT officials said, to maintain acceptable working conditions for current drivers.

What factors are being considered during the cuts?

The single primary factor being considered during the cuts is the amount of ridership each bus gets during the day. Lower ridership makes a route or particular time on a route more susceptible to cuts.

But that’s not the only factor being considered.

TCAT is also taking into consideration the areas it serves and people’s need for some kind of transportation throughout the day in rural or low-income areas.

For instance, while buses that go to Collegetown (about every 10 or 15 minutes) during certain times of day may have a larger ridership than a bus that goes to Enfield on a less frequent basis, officials said it would not be equitable to eliminate service to Enfield.

“We’re trying to be fair so, like it or not, we’re trying to spread out the cuts across all route types,” Yarrow said.

He said TCAT does not want to eliminate anybody’s lifeline for employment or childcare services.

What routes are being cut?

While TCAT is still actively deciding which cuts while be implemented, a version of proposed cuts can be found by clicking here. The link contains more information about which routes and times will be cut, as well as the reason it’s on the chopping block.

Are the cuts permanent?

The cuts could be permanent if more drivers aren’t hired by fall.

Yarrow said the company should know whether TCAT will be able to fill more full-time positions by June, and another public comment period would be held at that time.

How can I have my voice heard?

TCAT is hosting two more public meetings about the cuts before its April 11 board meeting where final cuts will be approved.

One is happening Thursday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in Room 226 of Weill Hall at Cornell University. The other is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday at the Community Center of the Maplewood Apartments.

If you can’t make it to either of those meeting but want to chime in on the issue,  TCAT is asking passengers to call TCAT at 607-277-7433 or visit their website here.

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Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.