A bus program that allows Antioch's older residents to ride for little or no cost may be on its way out.
Tri Delta Transit may eliminate a $275,000 subsidy to Antioch that allows residents ages 60 and older to ride for 50 cents. The switch also would likely end a program where low-income seniors ride free to the Antioch Senior Center for lunch.
Tri Delta's proposal has drawn the ire of Antioch leaders, who say the district is balancing its books on the backs of some of the city's most vulnerable residents.
"It would be devastating for the seniors in this city and the region," Antioch Councilman Brian Kalinowski said. "This is a cut that's coming from the bottom up and not the top down."
Tri Delta officials are looking to cut about $1.8 million from the agency's $19.3 million operating budget. The district could save about $100,000 annually by taking over Antioch's senior bus service, Executive Director Jeanne Krieg said. Antioch seniors would be charged Tri Delta's rate of $2.50 for a one-way fare -- an extra $20 for a person who takes the bus to and from home five times a week. They would be able to ride beyond Antioch.
"We're trying to find ways to be efficient. We have the maintenance staff and customer service in place," Krieg said.
The Tri Delta board of directors, which includes two elected leaders from each East Contra Costa city, two county representatives and an at-large member, will decide the issue next month.
Kalinowski, an Antioch representative on the district board, says he's not convinced Tri Delta has done enough to "find every last penny."
"We understand the change would be difficult," Krieg said.
If the plan is approved, Contra Costa County likely would have to scale back its free hot lunch service, said Paul Kraintz, senior nutrition program director. It would cost about $14,000 to replace the subsidy paid by Tri Delta through the city for the C.C. Cafe program, he said.
"Could we afford to continue to provide the same volume of service? Probably not," Kraintz said.
It remains unclear whether seniors would have to pay for rides to the lunch program, though Kraintz says the general rule has been that the county program pays half the cost of a round-trip fare.
The county may have to cut into its other senior nutrition programs such as Meals on Wheels, Kraintz said.
Antioch's senior center had 875 one-way trips in November, said Gina Lombardi-Gravert, the city's senior recreation specialist. Of those, 550 were for the lunch program, she said.
Patricia Warren and Mary Lou Wood eat lunch at the senior center nearly every day. The Antioch seniors also take advantage of the other activities at the center.
"It's a good way to keep active and keep our minds sharp," said Wood, 66.
For many, the lunch is the only warm meal of the day.
"A lot of the people who come here would otherwise just be shut-ins, sitting at home alone watching TV," said Warren, 68.
If Tri Delta cuts the subsidy for the discounted rides, Antioch's options include buying a number of rides and keeping the rates low by covering the difference. It could also start its own program.
Antioch officials say the cash-strapped city does not have enough money to explore either of those options.
Richmond is the only Contra Costa city that has its own bus program for seniors and the disabled. Starting Jan. 3, passengers will be charged $6 for a one-way trip, or $4 if they call ahead.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.