New bus route complaints arise

New bus route complaints arise
January 26
09:00 2017

Winston-Salem also faces projected bus budget deficit 



The Winston-Salem Transit Authority (WSTA) faces the challenges of adjusting the new routes to accommodate rider complaints and a projected budget deficit.

During a Jan. 17 meeting, City Council members said they’d received praise and many complaints about the new routes.

Dan Besse, who heads the council’s public works committee, said that small changes, like moving a bus stop, can be made immediately. Bigger adjustments, like altering or adding routes, could be months away. He said WSTA is currently compiling suggestions on the routes, and will present proposed changes in April to the committee.

WSTA replaced its old bus routes with 30 new ones this year. The new routes are designed for shorter ride times with more direct ways to get to destinations. Originally, they were drawn up to be revenue neutral, but the routes that went into effect actually cost $500,000 more a year than the old system.

They were designed after an extensive review of the bus system.  Since the new routes often stick to main roads, some communities and destinations that rely on buses found the routes no longer included them.  During the more than 20 public sessions, many spoke up about these issues and changes were made so bus service could continue near places like IFB Solutions (formally Industries for the Blind) and Green Street Baptist Church, which serves low-income families with its Shalom Project.

However, that was not true for others. During the comment session last week, several people said they lost bus service with the new routes. Rev. Dennis Leach of Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church said the routes no longer pass through the area his church is in, which contains Skyline Village Apartments. He said it’s a food desert that’s not near a grocery store and has  many low-income families that depend on bus service.

“I am here tonight … to ask those in this chamber for your help in restoring bus services to a community that was already feeling the pain of being boxed in and closed off, a community filled with people who are struggling to make ends meet, a community crying out for help,” said Leach.

The bus routes that are closest to the community now go down Martin Luther King Jr. Drive with a bus stop at the intersection of Williamson Street. According to Google Maps, it takes at least an 8-to 11-minute to walk from the apartments or the church to the stop. Renee Wilkins is disabled and said that’s a long, painful walk for her that includes a trek down a busy road with no sidewalks. She said it was difficult for bus riders with canes, wheelchairs and children in strollers. She also said the changes in routes and bus schedules is making it difficult for people to get to and from work. Some have even lost their jobs.

“We’re already feeling isolated and it’s just like we’re being neglected now for real,” she said.

City Council Member Robert Clark said during last week’s meeting he voted against the new routes because it was too much change at once, since businesses don’t overhaul everything they do overnight. During the Dec. 21, 2015 meeting, when Clark voted against the routes, he said that it was the increased cost of the routes he objected to.

The increased cost is one of the reasons why the WSTA has a projected $1.8 million budget deficit for next fiscal year. Other factors include the expense of Sunday service and reduced ridership due to lower gas prices.

Staff presented several options to balance the WSTA budget during a Jan. 10 public works meeting, One thing no council member on the committee was interested in was raising bus fares, which are currently $1, in the face of rider dissatisfaction with the new routes.

The committee was considering increasing rates for advertising on buses, raising the TransAid fare with an end to its pay exemption policy and raising the vehicle tax by $5.

Winston-Salem spends the least out of its general fund on its bus service of any major North Carolina city. TransAid, which provides on-demand rides to handicap people, currently only charges 50 cent, with most riders using it for free with the fare exemption.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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