During a press conference Jan. 26 at the ART bus station on Coxe Avenue, the people’s Voice on Transportation Equality (VOTE) challenged the city to demonstrate its commitment to serving those who depend on public transportation to reach jobs, school and appointments by extending ART bus routes into the evening and by extending routes into areas close to public housing.
“Extending evening service will certainly improve access for people looking to obtain and maintain their jobs,” said Vicki Meath, executive director of Just Economics, the group which spawned VOTE. “We absolutely understand this costs money, and we know the bus service is underfunded, but change starts with the will of the people, and they want to see this come to fruition.”
A 19-item ongoing wish list compiled in 2012 by activist group the People’s Agenda on Transportation listed the now-checked-off Sunday bus service as priority number one. But 2016 brings a new set of challenges as the group advocates for more services for bus riders.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” said Meath.
The group’s list of demands includes:
- increased ability to carry groceries on the bus
- an annual review of bus stop locations
- reinstatement of a stop at Bartlett Arms and the Overlook Apartments
- additional shelters and safety barriers
- an improved complaint system
- easier to use maps and information for riders
- public input on the transit master plan
- improved evening service, which was the second-most pressing priority (after Sunday service) in a 2013 survey conducted by the group
The group conducted another survey specifically focused on evening bus service in fall 2015 in cooperation with Ameena Batada, assistant professor of health and wellness at UNC Asheville. The survey asked 138 area bus riders and nine local employers their opinions. All those surveyed expressed support for extending bus service on certain ART routes. Over 90 percent said extending bus service would help them get to and from work, and about 94 percent said the extension would help them meet basic needs such as getting groceries and health care. About 78 percent of riders said they were in favor of paying a little more on a fare, with similar numbers in support of monthly and yearly fare pass increases.
“We knew people would support an extension, we didn’t know it would be that great,” said Batada, who explained that the extension would most likely aim for two to three hours past the current bus run times. Batada said that 56 percent of businesses surveyed reported that the extension would increase the number of customers.
“The city places priority on businesses, so that data is very interesting,” Batada said, and additional research will identify specific routes and times for extending service.
The people’s VOTE meets on the second Wednesday of every month at 4 p.m. at the United Way building downtown. The next meeting is Feb. 10. For more information on the transportation campaign, click here.