A national transit union is threatening legal action against the city of Mobile over proposed cuts to the WAVE bus system, which would see the elimination of most routes outside the city limits.
Anthony Garland, international representative for the Amalgamated Transit Union, said at a town hall meeting in Prichard Monday night the group will file a civil rights complaint on behalf of the residents in order to find out what demographic information was used by Mobile in order to receive a regional transit system grant. The complaint also will ask that all federal grant funding to the city be stopped until the issue is resolved, he said.
“WAVE is a regional transit system and the city applied for regional, rural grants,” Garland told a mix of Mobile and Prichard residents at the meeting. “As the union, we don’t know what all is in those grants … We’ll let the feds give us those answers.”
Garland said the complaint would help confirm whether Mobile used the demographics of Prichard to help secure more money through the 5307 grant process.
“They must follow the grant standards,” he said.
Mobile Finance Director Paul Wesch said the cuts affect city funding of the system and not the federal funding. Of the $3 million in grant funding WAVE receives, $2 million goes to capital, he said. The rest of the $10 million WAVE budget is funded by the city. Wesch said future grants could be impacted by ridership.
Union representatives also had harsh words for the system, which is operated by McDonald Transit. For instance, Garland criticized the system’s purchase of new gasoline-fueled buses, stating that most other systems purchase natural gas buses. He also criticized the WAVE’s hub system, where buses are forced to sit still in one place for too long.
“The transit system here … sucks,” Garland said. “A lot of systems are getting away from hubs, but this is a hub system.”
Antoinette Bryant, another Washington, D.C., union representative, told residents to join the group in speaking to the Mobile City Council during its regular Tuesday meeting.
“Your vote is important; your voice is important,” she said. “We need to keep the transit we do have and improve it. The transit you have here does suck.”
In November, Bryant said the union began lobbying the Alabama Legislature for public transit funding. Currently, state money does not pay for public transit and Alabama is one of only four states that “doesn’t support” public transit, she said.
In September, the Mobile City Council cut more than $700,000 from the more than $6 million the city was slated to transfer from the 2016 general fund budget to WAVE. The money was split among performance contracts for charity organizations, Visit Mobile and two different council coffers.
Because of the cuts, WAVE has proposed the elimination of two routes in Prichard. Prichard is home to a federally funded hub, but routes extending beyond three-quarters of a mile from the hub will be eliminated. Routes going to Chickasaw and an unincorporated portion of Mobile County near Tillman’s Corner were also eliminated. The jury shuttle will also be eliminated because of the cuts.
Several routes will also have their hours of operation reduced. Many that ran late-night service will stop at 7 p.m. or earlier, starting in April.
Before the budget cut, the city was funding about 60 percent to 70 percent of WAVE’s budget, with federal money making up the other 30 percent to 40 percent. Chickasaw, Prichard and Mobile County didn’t provide funding for the service.
At the town hall meeting, Prichard Mayor Troy Ephriam reiterated his city cannot not afford the more than $500,000 it would take to keep the routes going. Through a letter sent to Mayor Sandy Stimpson, Ephriam has asked for the April deadline to at least be extended to allow them to come up with alternatives. As far as a reversal on the decision to cut funding, Ephriam said it appears that won’t happen.
Residents were allowed to speak and ask questions at the event at Mount Calvary Baptist Church. Many residents and officials at the meeting compared the loss of bus service now to the segregation era.
“I’ve been through Jim Crow and was told to go to the back of the bus,” resident William Simmons said. “Now, they’re saying there is no bus.”
Simmons said the action of removing routes was akin to genocide.
“It’s an attack on black society,” he said. “I thought Jim Crow was dead.”