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Orange County drops Night Owl bus service, plans more cuts

June 8, 2009 |  1:09 pm

Orange County officials voted today to eliminate pre-dawn bus service at the end of the year, signaling an end to a program designed to help graveyard shift workers get home.

The cut is part of a general budget trimming move that will result in reduced bus service throughout the county.

The Orange County Transportation Authority is facing severe budget problems and needs to make up for a $33-million shortfall in the coming year's budget, officials said this morning.

OCTA has already laid off bus drivers, raised fares to $1.50 from $1.25 for a single ride and cut service hours on several lines.

While the agency spared the Night Owl service for a few more months, the directors acknowledged it was a temporary reprieve. 

The approved cuts also reduce the frequency of several bus routes that will affect tens of thousands of riders. OCTA directors Cathy Green and John Moorlach voted against the proposal. Directors also instructed staff to return in 30 days with proposals for cutting an additional 300,000 service hours.

The cuts approved today were only the first in a round of cuts that will total about 400,000 service hours.

More than a dozen bus riders spoke at the meeting -- with several asking board members to preserve the Night Owl lines and the first and last buses of any route, even if it means decreasing the frequency of buses during the day.

While cutting the frequency of buses is inconvenient, preserving first and last buses lets workers and students who don't have other options for transportation in the early morning and late-night hours to continue their activities, said Nidia Baker, 31, a senior at Cal State Fullerton.

People who ride the bus "don't have the type of jobs where we can make adjustments to our schedules," she said. "We have the type of jobs people are waiting in line to take."

The directors asked staff to look for ways to preserve the first and last buses on routes that have at least eight riders during those hours.

The Night Owl service, which serves hundreds of riders a day on lines that cut through the heart of the county, was introduced by Orange County transportation leaders nearly seven years ago to help graveyard shift workers who often found themselves scrambling to get home.

The approved cuts are "really going to create a hardship for people who are already dealing with a lot of hardships in trying to maintain a decent quality of life," said Anthony Kiminas, who spoke at the meeting and works with disabled students in the Capistrano Unified School District.

--Paloma Esquivel