Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Another Mass Transit Option Eliminated

The politicians can talk all day about the benefits of mass transit as a component of a sustainable community, but unless they are prepared to spend their political capital and actually fund a dependable transit system, it is obvious that all the talk and press conferences are just so much hot air. If they can't or won't support funding for an adequate and convenient bus system, they shouldn't waste our time talking about light rail. They aren't, they can't, they won't, and they shouldn't.

The politicians have known this crisis in public transportation was coming for some time. Last year, George Bush cut $220,000 in federal funding for local mass transit, and John Boozman did nothing to restore it. Despite an increase in both fares and ridership this year, the Board of Ozark Regional Transit met at 10 o'clock this morning and voted to can six employees and cut bus service in Springdale and Fayetteville to compensate for rising fuel prices and loss of charter revenue. Fayetteville's Route 47 is one of those the Board voted to eliminate on October 1st, and they will cancel half of another route in each city unless they contribute more money. Most of us won't notice the loss of one and a half bus routes, because we seldom ride the bus, but that is not the case for everyone.

Route 47
serves North Fayetteville and the Zion Rd, Joyce Blvd, Wal-Mart, and NWA Mall areas, as well as frequent service to North Hills Medical Center, the Social Security Office, the Joyce Boulevard Post Office, the Department of Human Services, Washington Regional Medical Center, and the Washington County Health Department. These are all essential destinations for the low income elderly and disabled citizens who have no other means of transportation, but they just don't make campaign contributions or vote often enough to matter to some elected officials.

The Ozark Regional Transit Board, which made the decision to abolish the routes and terminate the employees, is composed of the four county judges in Northwest Arkansas, and the Mayor of his designee from the four largest cities. Washington County is represented by Judge Jerry Hunton, who said that the county would not increase its mass transit budget contribution for next year.

Mayor Dan Coody designated Dr. Susan Thomas, Ph.D., his public relations adviser, to be Fayetteville's voting member on the Board. Fayetteville budgeted $186, 666 for ORT this year. There is no indication that Coody is prepared to support the necessary funding increase to save Route 47, but he said that Fayetteville might come up with another $20,000 for the transit system to prevent losing another half a route. That's less than he spent on furnishing the westside sewer plant with those comfortable new chairs.

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