Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Right Bus

Back in May, the city council passed a resolution to consolidate the city transit system with the Concho Valley Council of Governments rural transit system. I had high hopes that this would be the start of many joint ventures that could provide expanded services at reduced costs. It seems I may have been a bit optimistic.

People have started coming to me about problems with the bus system. There will always be issues with any move or change, but what I am hearing makes me wonder "what are they thinking." On Sept. 1st, when control was transferred to CVCOG, they closed the Santa Fe depot. This was the central terminal for all the buses, and the place where riders could buy weekly or monthly bus passes.

There is a flyer in the depot window that says the bus depot is closed. There is another one that says "Under new ownership." It also says that all passes must now be purchased at the CVCOG offices at 2800 W Loop 306 Ste A. Seems simple enough except for a couple problems. There is no scheduled bus stop on W Loop 306. The closest scheduled stop is on E loop 306 at Sitel. A rough measurement using Google Earth shows the bus stop is about 0.2 miles across one of the busiest highways in San Angelo. If you walk the frontage roads and cross at either Knickerbocker or College Hills, you walk about one mile and the intersections are still very dangerous. This makes it impractical for most riders to stop there to get a pass.

The "managers" at the Concho Valley Transit District recognized this was a problem. One of the people I talked to actually made the walk from Sitel to the district office, only to be told that they wouldn't be selling the passes there. They said that the bus drivers would be selling the passes as soon as the procedures could be worked out and the old passes could be used until then. This still hasn't happened yet which is costing the bus system significant money every day.

I have heard that transfers run out before the end of the day. In addition, I have been told that many bus drivers think they had a pay cut, even though the agreement the city signed was supposed to guarantee the drivers would receive the same pay, with only a difference in the benefits package.

There are other problems but these seem so basic that you really have to wonder about the management. What sense does it make to close down a centrally located depot when the alternative is extremely difficult to get to by bus and at the edge of town? Why didn't they realize they needed a different way to sell passes and have it in place on the first day, or at least delay closing the depot until the new procedures were ready? They had four months to work on the transition.

I am left with a couple of concerns. First, bus riders are often among the most disadvantaged citizens in our community. Problems with the bus impact their ability to get around this community. If the bus system is broke it impacts their jobs, health care, shopping, etc.. If we don't do the bus system right, we hurt some of our most vulnerable citizens.

My other concerns are about what this tells us about our local government organizations abilities to cooperate on projects. This bus system transition should have been almost invisible. We had a mostly functional system with drivers, equipment, routes, and procedures already in place. With proper planning and coordination, the changes could have been positive with all concerned seeing it as a step forward. Instead we have a series of snafus with the bus system losing fares because of the lack of planning about passes and transfers. We have bus drivers that are confused and are becoming disillusioned. We have the opposite of what should have happened. This leaves me with this question: If we can't combine two working transportation systems how are we going to handle larger multi organization problems such as public safety communications upgrades, regional water problems, emergency preparedness, homeland security, etc.? If our local government organizations can't do the small and simple stuff right, why do we think we can do the big, complex stuff?

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you Jim, and I even heard that CVCOG stopped the bus runs all together on the Holiday. This does not seem very practical to me if we stop the only transportation the disadvantaged have. I realize that not every one
    would be riding the bus but there are still some that need the transportation get around doing shopping and other chores that they use the
    day for. Fewer scheduled times the buses would run could have been
    incorporated to reduce operating cost and at the same time served the
    public, as they should. Another example of can they really do it.