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CCRTA Budget Busted

MUDCAT FALLS -- Fuel and increased maintenance costs are threatening to bust the budget of the Calabash County Regional Transit Authority. A shortfall of nearly $1.2 million is expected for 2004, with deficits growing "as far as the eye can see" according to Silas Lindarhed, CCRTA Director of Operations.

Although some portion of the problem is related to the recent rise in crude oil prices, CCRTA engineers are singling out increased load factors as a prime cause of the cost increases.

"It takes more diesel fuel to move greater and greater loads, not to mention the additional wear and tear on the bus tires and suspensions," said Lindarhed. "Normally, this would be a good thing, but unfortunately, revenue generation has remained flat, which means we are carrying fatter and fatter passengers. So basically, we're losing our ass because our riders are growing theirs."

Obesity is a life-or-death struggle in the United States, the underlying cause of 400,000 deaths in 2000, a 33 percent jump from 1990. If current trends persist, it will become the nation's No. 1 cause of preventable death, the CDC said earlier this year. More than half - 56 percent - of U.S. adults were overweight or obese in the early 1990s, according to a CDC survey. That rose to 65 percent in a similar survey done from 1999 to 2002.

Through the 1990s, the average weight of Americans increased by 10 pounds. In one of the few census benchmarks in which Calabash County exceeds national averages, though, the typical weight gain for local residents has been 20 pounds, which means county population tonnage has grown from 11,951.72 tons to 13,279.7 tons, an increase of nearly 2,655,960 pounds.

"It's a good thing we don't live on a geological fault line," said Calabash County Engineer O.B. Wancanoby, "Or I'd expect an increased risk of earthquakes from the greater and greater forces exerted on the crust of the earth 'round these here parts."

The extra fuel burned is also having an environmental impact, causing and exacerbating a host of health problems, including asthma, lung disease, and cancer, and has been linked to premature death. Buses routinely expose children and communities to soot (particulate matter) and smog-forming pollution (nitrogen oxides and non-methane hydrocarbons), and also add to the global burden of greenhouse gas emissions.

"We first started noticing the problem getting really bad on the Barleycorn District Loop," said Lindarhed, "After Haagen Dasz opened their new big box superstore last year."

CCRTA management is considering several options to meet budget shortfalls, including a requirement for large people to pay a second fare for passenger safety and comfort, although the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 99 representing the drivers stated their opposition to the plan and has vowed to strike over the issue.

"Our members already take their fair share of grief from those idiot riders," said Local 99 President Hack Wheeler, Jr. "So unless the county is going to put armed bus Marshalls on our routes, I don't see it happening."



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