My View: Voices of actual riders need to be heard by StarMetro by Christic Henry and Stephen Hogge • My View • October 15, 2009As students at Florida State University, life pretty much centered around bus routes. It was a daily routine; get to the bus stop on Sutor Road 20 minutes after the hour to catch the No. 22 in the morning, transfer to the No. 14 to get to work. From morning to evening, the city bus was how you got where you needed to go.
AdvertisementAs car-driving grown-ups, we see students waiting at bus stops, whether along Orange Avenue on the Southside or along Thomasville Road in Midtown.
We also see those with physical challenges, or parents with children, who at times must brave the August heat or the January cold to make it to the nearest pick-up. We see people trying to get to work, whose only means of getting there is the bus. These riders are the heart and soul of the promise of public transportation.
Any mass transit plan must strike an appropriate balance between accessibility and mobility. The current StarMetro plan emphasizes accessibility — there are approximately 26 bus routes. Its proposed new plan would emphasize mobility — greater trip frequency, but fewer bus routes.
In making this shift to the degree proposed, the plan runs the risk of seriously impeding access for the poor, the elderly, and the disabled. Their ability to access transportation and have the mobility that so many of us take for granted must not be sacrificed as the city works to innovate our transit system.
As StarMetro rolls out its leaner, "greener," multi-transfer station decentralization plan, which is called "NOVA 2010," we have two questions: Does the plan reflect an appreciation of the circumstances and needs of these rider populations and their ability to access needed transportation?
Are the voices of these riders being included in the discussion?We heard about the proposed plan in July when a StarMetro representative approached us about meeting with the Board of the Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA). After about two minutes into the presentation, we immediately recognized the impact that the plan would have on those who depend on public transportation, especially in areas that consist of older, in-fill neighborhoods within or close to urban centers.
It was obvious that this proposed plan was going to be contentious and controversial! The StarMetro representative said that having multi-transfer operation stations that keep buses from having to meet downtown will shorten wait times, allow for new route configurations and greater trip frequency.
But it also means that buses would not be traveling into many of the neighborhoods that they currently do. The representative explained that for the proposal to work, bus stops could only be made available on arterial roads.
Absent, however, are neighborhood bus stops such as the one on the corner of Pasco and Carver Streets in the Bond Community near the Walker Ford and Smith Williams Service Center. There many active senior citizens and children independently catch the bus to participate in programs or obtain educational, recreational, or human services.
We also noticed the deletion of routes such as the one to the Tallahassee Museum. The proposed plan could also mean a 10- to15-minute walk for children who usually catch the bus to Rickards High School and get dropped off near the corner of Jim Lee and Paul Russell Road. Under the plan, they would be dropped off on Orange Avenue.
We are concerned that the regular user of StarMetro hasn't heard about the plan and, more important, been made aware of what the plan will mean to them.
While we applaud StarMetro for scheduling several listening sessions and know they are well-intended, they must make every effort through conventional and unconventional channels to reach out to these riders.
In an effort to include more of our residents in this conversation, the Council of Neighborhood Associations is hosting a town hall meeting at the Smith Williams Center, 2295 Pasco Street from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. today.
Public transportation in Tallahassee has served transitional and urban citizens well in the past. The lives of students, young adults, families, and seniors are affected by the bus routes. More than that, the bus network produces some of the most intergenerational, culturally diverse, and representative gatherings in the city.
As we pursue progress and innovation and work to attract new riders, we must make sure that we don't leave behind the current riders and lose sight of the most important and foundational ideal behind its existence — meeting people where they are and helping them to get where they need to go.
Christic Henry, a local Realtor, currently serves as president-elect of the Council of Neighborhood Associations and Stephen Hogge serves as president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations. Contact them via email at christic@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx and/or stephen100@xxxxxxxxxxxx
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