The Orange County Transportation Authority approved a $1.2 billion budget Monday that reduces the number of staff positions by about 235 but doesn’t call for more cuts in bus service.

“There have been very difficult cuts over the past two years,” spokesman Joel Zlotnik said, “but we’ve reached a point where OCTA has a sustainable level of service.”

Still to be determined is whether another round of fare increases will be required. That, Zlotnik said, will depend on general economic conditions and their impact on sales tax revenue, which provides a good chunk of the agency’s budget revenues.

He said no decision on fares would be made until, probably, the fall. But the budget as it stands now assumes an increase will be needed in January.

That could also change.

“That assumption is being re-examined,” Zlotnik said.

Bus service in Orange County has been hit especially hard over the past two years. As Voice of OC reported last week, the Orange County grand jury strongly criticized the county’s local, state and federal representatives for focusing on other transit systems, including high-speed rail proposals, at the expense of bus riders.

The bus system’s woes began with cuts in service in late 2008 and escalated as the economy worsened. Dramatic reductions in service, including a one-third drop in bus runs, were ordered early last year, and by November, transportation officials were slashing thousands of hours of bus service.

To balance the 2010-11 budget, transit leaders had to eliminate 236 staff positions, mostly through early retirements, unfilled vacancies and some layoffs.

If a fare increase is needed, the assumption in the budget is that the current $1.50 cash fare would rise to $2 and the $4 day pass would increase to $5.


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