Petersburg holds off on bus route changes
By James Peacemaker, Jr. Managing Editor
Sep 4, 2013, 15:29
PETERSBURG — A plan that would have greatly increased fares for bus routes to Colonial Heights and Virginia State University was sent back to city staff for changes after public outcry continued this week.
At a City Council meeting Tuesday night, more than a dozen people spoke out against the plan to increase the rate for the Petersburg Area Transit routes from $1.50 to $4 one way for the bus to Southpark Mall and $5 one way to VSU. Monthly passes would be available for $100 to VSU and $80 to Southpark Mall.
The cost for single trips and monthly passes would be halved for seniors and those with disabilities.
The plan presented by Steven W. Hicks, director of transit, utilities and public works, would have also reduced the number of trips per day. The Southpark Mall route would run at 8:15 a.m., 11:15 a.m., 3:15 p.m. and 6 :15 p.m. The VSU route would have stops at 7:15 a.m., 1:15 p.m. and 5:15 p.m.
The changes would have made the routes self-sufficient. The changes would also save the city about $500,000 a year.
Other changes included reducing the transfer time from two hours to one hour and eliminating the extended hour of bus service on Friday and Saturday evenings, which was only averaging three riders a day.
At a City Council meeting on June 18, more than 30 residents spoke out against the initial plan presented that night to eliminate the routes completely but changes were made to save them.
Several of the people who spoke out June 18 also spoke out Tuesday.
One of the people to speak out against the changes was Karen Parrish, who works at Chick-Fil-A at the mall. She said she needs the bus “so I can keep my job and not go back into the system.”
She questioned how she could afford paying $11 a day for her commute.
Richard Mills, who works at Home Depot, said he relies on the bus as well, and said changing the routes in the morning will hurt commuters. “We need the morning routes,” he said. He also questioned why there was a security guard patrolling the new bus station that is mostly empty, saying that is one place to cut costs.
Pamela Bingham said she came to speak for the seniors and disabled who couldn’t be there to represent themselves. She said her parents have lived in Petersburg for nearly 30 years. She said her mother is legally blind and has many other health ailments and her father needs help getting in his wheelchair. She held up a thick stack of business cards that represent all the health professionals they have to see.
“Public transit is essential to staying in your home. Public transit is essential for senior citizens. Public transit is essential for disabled people. I have been very disappointed with the lack of services,” she said.
Most of City Council expressed that the plan needs further work.
Councilman Ken Pritchett made a motion for staff to come back at another session with numbers on how much it would cost if the shortfall was made up with a real estate tax increase.
The motion failed 3-4, with Mayor Brian Moore saying he would not support raising taxes but could support a different rate structure.
Hicks said the city could pay for the shortfall with a mix of tax increases and fare increases.
“It boils down to how much is council willing to subsidize the rate structure,” he said.
Councilwoman Treska Wilson-Smith said the bus routes are important to the city and said that without jobs, the city would see an increase in crime and the money would just end up being spent in the judicial system.
A motion was then put forward to consider fare restructuring at another council meeting. The motion passed 7-1 with Council Howard Myers voting no.
Hicks noted that time was important with limited money available in the budget. Public hearings have to be advertised in advance and fare changes also have to be advertised for at least four weeks before changing due to federal regulations.