LAKELAND, Fla. -- The wheels on the bus could come to a screeching halt in Polk County if the government shutdown continues.
President Donald Trump has said it could last months, and if it does, millions of riders who depend on public transit could be in serious trouble.
Tom Phillips, executive director of Citrus Connection in Polk County, said about half of the service’s operating budget comes from the federal government. It hasn't gotten any of that money since the shutdown started nearly three weeks ago.
Madeline Rodriguez said without the bus, she wouldn’t be able to get to work.
“Once you miss three days off, you have no job,” she said. “Then I wouldn't be able to pay my bills.”
Citrus Connection has enough cash to make it through the end of March without the federal money, Phillips said.
However, it if it has to cut routes to save money, it has to give people six weeks’ notice. That means, the Citrus Connection board would have to approve the plan at their meeting in mid-February, Phillips explained.
The possibility of routes getting cut worries drivers.
“We don't make a fortune here, so we're pretty much living paycheck to paycheck,” driver Charles Reiff said. “It's not a good feeling at all.”
Phillips hopes it won't come to furloughing drivers. He said administrative positions like his would be the first in line, but whether you ask the drivers or the riders, they feel the federal government is throwing them under the bus.
“Stop acting like children and get this settled,” Reiff said.
Rodriguez added, “I need my buses, Trump.”
Phillips said Citrus Connection is also looking into getting a loan from the city of Lakeland or the county, or opening a line of credit. Those are two options he’d like to avoid.
Pinellas and Hillsborough counties' bus services also rely on federal grants. We reached out to them and will let you know if we hear back.
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