Hampton Roads Transit lays off 16 administrative employees

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Hampton Roads Transit laid off more than a dozen employees to curb budget spending for the 2018 fiscal year.

According to spokesperson Tom Holden, 16 full-time and part-time administrative personnel were laid off on Friday. Holden says 17 vacant positions will also not be filled.

“It’s not a decision taken lightly. They are hardworking people who were devoted to their work, but we have to make our budget in reality to what our budgets are,” Holden said.

HRT says the job cuts will annually save them $1.94 million.

This comes after HRT says its imbalance for the 2016 fiscal year ended about $5.3 million over its $96 million budget, costing cities millions.

Holden says the under budgeting came from lower revenue costs due to lower ridership, workplace benefits, such as more employees opting for insurance, workplace requirements like overtime pay and fleet maintenance.

“HRT buses travel 11 million miles a year. Many of our buses are well behind their life cycle. We have some buses in our fleet with 700- to 900,000 miles and they require a lot of maintenance,” he said.

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Holden says the average bus age in their fleet is 10.5 years and more than 33 buses have acquired hundreds of thousands of miles. He says federal money that HRT receives goes toward either operations or capital, which could buy new buses, but HRT uses those funds tor maintenance because they can not retire buses as quickly as planned.

HRT receives it’s funding from the federal, state, and local municipalities and revenue from fareboxes.

Holden says HRT has been funded the same way since 1999 despite changes and growth to the transit system.

“The region has changed and grown. We are delivering a lot of changes the region wants, but it’s still heavily reliant on city general funds contribution. There’s only so much the city can do,” he said.

Holden says 40 percent of the money cities provide comes from general funds, which also pays for services like police and fire. He also says HRT can not hold surplus funds from the city and must give it back each fiscal year.

HRT believes a different funding system should be created to prevent under budgeted from happening again.

Holden says they are working to fix this by using programs to increase ridership. They’re also making other budget cuts but hope that something can be done to provide a permanent budget system that works for all.

“The region really needs to rethink how they fund transit. What is the best way we want to fund this system so we can provide the services we think people expect?” Holden said.

An HRT board meeting will be held on April 27 to discuss other cuts to their budget.

This is a developing story. Stay with WAVY.com for updates.