Better buses: People rallying on behalf of a 19-point overhaul of the Asheville Transit System this afternoon. Their demands included increased service, more representation for those who rely on the system and more transparency. Photo by Michael Carlebach
A citizens' activist group, People's Voice for Transportation Equality, presented an agenda for an overhaul of the Asheville Transit System to make it more responsive to its riders at a rally Jan. 14. The group is calling for late-night and Sunday service, more representation in the decision-making process and more accountability, among other changes.
About 30 people held signs, chanted "better buses together" and marched to the Transit Committee meeting, where they reiterated their push for changes to the system. Many rely on the bus for transportation.
Calvin Allen said the group started meeting in Fall 2012, coming out of Just Economics' Voices for Economic Justice Leadership Training Program. He mentioned that elderly people who where displaced by some of the transit route overhauls were a major motivation for their work, and emphasized that the bus system needed to represent their voices too.
"We [need to] focus on the ability of people to get to work, to get food," he said.
Vicki Meath, executive director of Just Economics, said the group is focused on working with city staff and committees "to build a better bus system together."
Bella Jackson said the group had talked extensively with bus riders and drivers in shaping its recommendations into 19 points, dubbed "The People's Agenda on Transportation."
"We combined the data with our personal experiences to come up with this agenda," she said. "Our No. 1 thing is to have Sunday bus service. When we talk about our experiences as workers, something that always comes up is that people have been fired because the person who was supposed to give them a ride on Sunday didn't show up one time. People have lost so many jobs over not having reliable bus service on Sunday."
Samantha Simpson noted that her family of five has relied on the bus system since their van broke down last April.
"There is no way to be on time when riding the bus; how can we be productive if we're never on time?" she said. "It's kind of hard when you have a toddler, a stroller and groceries to get around town."
At the committee meeting, Jackson presented their points and said they hoped to work further with them to get their goals accomplished, especially emphasizing the need for Sunday and increased late-night service in the coming year's budget, noting that workers who get off late can end up forced to spend a significant part of their pay on a cab or even sleep outside.
"It's just not a workable situation right now when Asheville has a large service-based economy," she said. "It's simply not debatable; we need this."
She added that without a reliable public transit system, even getting access to groceries for many people is difficult. Jackson also emphasized more representation of non-elective riders on city committees and a more fair complaint process.
Committee Chair Julie Mayfield thanked the group for their work and said she's in the process of setting up a meeting with them to address their concerns in more detail.
Roy Harris, a Southside resident who's ridden the bus since his retirement, told the committee that he had also heard of people losing their jobs because of issues with the transit system.
"I didn't realize how much people depended on it for their livelihoods," Harris said. "My ears were opened as to how people perceive transit."
To read the whole 19-point People’s Agenda on Transportation, go to avl.mxl04g.