Orange County transit officials voted Monday to eliminate predawn bus service at the end of the year, apparently signaling an end to a program designed to help graveyard shift and low-wage workers get home.
The change is part of a general budget-cutting move that will result in reduced bus service throughout the county.
The Orange County Transportation Authority is facing severe budget problems and needs to make up for a $33-million shortfall in the coming year's budget, officials said.
OCTA has already laid off bus drivers, raised fares to $1.50 from $1.25 for a single ride and cut service hours on several lines.
The agency spared the Night Owl service for a few months past an originally proposed date, but directors said it was a temporary reprieve.
OCTA directors Cathy Green and John Moorlach voted against the proposal.
The approved cuts also reduce the frequency on dozens of bus routes, affecting tens of thousands of riders, and directors instructed staff to return in 30 days with proposals for cutting an additional 300,000 service hours.
Staff will also look at the possibility of preserving a reduced version of the Night Owl service, officials said.
The approved cuts were the first in a round of cuts that will total about 400,000 service hours.
More than a dozen bus riders spoke at the meeting, with several asking board members to preserve the Night Owl lines and the first and last buses of any route, even if it meant decreasing the frequency of buses during the day.
Although cutting the frequency of buses causes inconvenience, preserving first and last buses lets workers and students who don't have other options in the early morning and late-night hours continue their activities, said Nidia Baker, 31, a senior at Cal State Fullerton.
Reducing buses could be devastating to people with jobs that start or end at those hours, she said.
People who ride the bus "don't have the type of jobs where we can make adjustments to our schedules," she said.
"We have the type of jobs people are waiting in line to take," she said.
Directors asked staff to look for ways to preserve first and last buses on routes that have at least eight riders during those hours.
The Night Owl service, which serves hundreds of riders a day on lines that cut through the heart of the county, was introduced nearly seven years ago to help graveyard shift workers who often found themselves scrambling to get home.
The approved cuts are "really going to create a hardship for people who are already dealing with a lot of hardships in trying to maintain a decent quality of life," said Anthony Kiminas, a Ladera Ranch resident who spoke at the meeting.