Bus riders will see unprecedented cuts in service as cities cut transit funding to cope with budget woes.

The cuts will reduce the frequency of six Scottsdale routes and eliminate night service on three Mesa lines, reducing service even as the communities grow rapidly and recognize the need for improved transit systems.

The changes will force riders to wait as much as an hour between buses — or leave them stranded after 7 p.m. on some routes.

"It's a sad situation," said Teri Collins, principal transit planner with ValleyMetro. "Cities are trying not to have to do this, but their hands are tied."

And more cuts could follow in a year. Scottsdale originally planned to cut $1.4 million from mass transit, but it spared some cuts with a temporary allocation of $675,000, said Debra Astin, Scottsdale's transit planner. The city will probably make the rest of the cuts next year, Astin said.

"We don't see the economy recovering enough to be able to bring the service back," she said.

Those reductions could be harsher, Astin said, because the city will scale back an already trimmed system.

Scottsdale will reduce the frequency on six of its 15 routes. The toughest change will take place on the Scottsdale Road line, Astin said, where reduced Sunday and night service will make it more difficult for service industry workers to get to and from work.

In Mesa, buses will stop running after 7 p.m. on three north-south routes. Thirteen lines operate in Mesa. The city was forced to make a variety of service cuts and raise some city fees to help erase a projected $33 million deficit in its next fiscal year.

Rider Sandra Osborn said the night cuts will make it impossible to see a nighttime or even late afternoon movie on a route she frequently uses to get to theaters and a Wal-Mart at Stapley Drive and U.S. 60. Osborn relies on buses for shopping, doctor’s visits and entertainment. She said cab fares are too high.

"It's sad that Mesa thinks that little of their residents, to hinder them so much," Osborn said. "And they want to know why we're unemployed or people lost their jobs."

The economic slowdown will affect Phoenix service, but not through reductions. Rather, the city will slow the pace of improvements that voters approved in 2000 with a transit tax, Collins said.

Phoenix will add routes that help East Valley commuters, including a rapid route from downtown Phoenix to a new park-and-ride lot at 40th Street and Pecos Road in Ahwatukee Foothills.

All changes will take place July 14. Notices will be posted this week, and new bus schedules will be printed by early July.

Valley residents could have a chance to boost transit funding within two years as Valley leaders have recently outlined plans to extend Maricopa County's 20-year transit tax, which expires in 2005. Voters would have to approve the plan, which until now put 98 percent of funds toward freeway construction.

Transit advocates have already discussed giving a larger percent of the tax for new rail lines and buses, but have not produced a specific plan.

Osborn said she would welcome an improved transit system, such as the one in her former homes of Houston or Dallas. The latter city had more extensive bus service and a light-rail system that got her around in a fraction of the time it takes to travel the same distance here.

"I'm not used to the limited service we have in Mesa," Osborn said.

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