ITHACA, N.Y. — At a TCAT board meeting Monday, members unanimously voted to reduce 21 routes in Ithaca this summer.

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The changes are the result of under staffing at TCAT, which prompted the company to hire contract driver — costing $33,000 per week — since November.

Jennifer Dotson, chairperson of the human resource committee, said, “It’s priority one to recruit and retain drivers.”

Alice Eccleston, assistant general manager at TCAT, said at the meeting that the loss of drivers and maintenance worker since last spring has left the organization with not enough workers to continue running regularly scheduled bus service.

Recruitment effort were able to fill all but one position on the maintenance team, but drivers continue to be in short supply.

“We also brought on some operates but we’re still not at the level we need to be — that we typically put on the streets for our summer service,” she said. “This is a challenge with regard to finding people to fill these positions.”

Dotson said the lack of qualified CDL drivers is not unique to TCAT, and is a trend industry wide as the trucking industry and other bus companies vie for drivers.

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Board members said it’s “unlikely” TCAT will have to make permanent cuts to service, but will have to if the driver positions can’t be filled.

If so, TCAT will host another several public meeting about services this summer to get input from the community.

TCAT hosted four public meetings last week where members of the public were able to voice concerns about the cuts and the possible permanency of them.

“We really felt transparency and taking to the community was really important and we have done so,” Eccleston said.

Some concerns about the summer route cuts included the accessibility of buses for the elderly, disabled and those who live in outlying communities. TCAT officials said during the meeting that cuts were made with the intent on being as equitable as possible when reducing services, and not favoring one area of service over another.

But still,  Doug Swarts, service development manager at TCAT, said some of the reductions made for the summer won’t be be possible during the fall because of how ridership fluctuates when students get back to town.

Board member Dan Klein said, “There’s a lot of questions that… (are) not going to be easy to answer right now. The whole paradigm is shifting a little bit.”

The approved cuts will go into effect from May 22 to Aug. 20.

Summer 2016 List of Proposed Service Cuts and Adjustments FINAL 3-31-16

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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.