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SLORTA cancels service for elderly, plans new $10 million facility

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The San Luis Obispo Regional Transit Authority Board of Directors eliminated a door-to-door shuttle service used primarily by the elderly in Los Osos and, at the same July 13 meeting, discussed future “capital needs” that include plans for a future $10 million facility.

The RTA’s Dial-A-Ride service fell $10,000 short of the amount that would have allowed the service to continue. The vote to eliminate it was unanimous.

The agency will expand bus service on some routes to make up for the loss. Some of the elderly riders who use the service have told New Times the bus stops are too far from many of their homes and situated across a busy street they’re wary of crossing.

At the same meeting, the board discussed plans for a new $11 million facility to replace its present facility. The RTA has been struggling to make payments on a $4.7 million loan it took out in March 2008 to pay for its present building, a state-of-the-art headquarters at 179 Cross St. in SLO.The RTA recently took out a new loan with better terms than the original to help pay off the building. The interest payments for the new loan will be approximately $12,000 to $14,000 a month, according to RTA documents. Though the Authority built most of the building, it doesn’t own it. The RTA rents the facility.

Now, RTA leadership is planning to buy new land and try to find around $11 million to build a new facility. Transit officials say the old building would be too expensive to buy; the rent-to-buy contract was negotiated at pre-recession prices.

“It’s not our facility,” RTA Executive Director Ed King told New Times. “We have a lot of needs and a lot of service needs. In six years we’re going to have to move somewhere else. We could buy the facility, but the asking price of that facility would be so astronomical, so it doesn’t make business sense to invest in that facility. That’s the challenge we have.”

Transportation officials say money for facilities and equipment is much easier to get than money for everyday operations. They say the system favors buying things rather than operating routes. RTA officials are planning for the day when government coffers are rejuvenated by a recovering economy.

“Grants and loans are much easier to get if you are buying instead of refurbishing,” said an official from another transportation agency who did not want to be named. “I know this doesn’t make any sense from a layman’s point of view but in terms of how government funding works, it’s logical.”

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