Glenda Gordon sat in the front of the small bus as it trundled down the back streets of downtown Mobile, headed to Prichard. The 62-year-old mother and grandmother makes the hour-and-a-half commute almost daily from her home off Michigan Avenue in Mobile to her job in Eight Mile.
She was one of six passengers on the 8 a.m. bus Monday, on a route through Africatown and Prichard and eventually into Eight Mile. Ridership along the two-hour round trip wouldn’t pick up much that day, but Gordon and other riders blamed spring break and said the earlier buses — beginning at 6 a.m. — are usually busier anyway, sometimes becoming standing room only.
But the low ridership along this route and others almost every other hour of the day was one of the reasons the Mobile City Council voted Tuesday to approve a recommendation from WAVE Transit management to cut part of its routes outside the city limits. Only Councilman C.J. Small and Councilman Levon Manzie voted against the cuts in a 5-2 vote.
Without bus service, commuters like Gordon will be without transportation. In Gordon’s case, she will most likely lose her job working as a personal care specialist for an elderly couple in Eight Mile.
“I wouldn’t have any way to get to work,” she said. “I guess I would be out of a job.”
She said she’s not in a position to ask family for help, as her kids are dealing with their own families and can’t shuttle her back and forth to work. Gordon, who has been riding the bus off and on for about five years, also uses WAVE to get to her doctor’s office at Springhill Medical Center.
“I had a car, but the car broke down and I was unable to get it repaired,” she said. “A new one is not in my budget right now.”
During the budget process in September, the City Council cut more than $700,000 from its General Fund transfer to WAVE. Before the cut, the city was paying more than $6 million of the system’s $10 million budget; the other $4 million came from federal grant funds.
While the council took the money cut from WAVE and gave it to the Boys and Girls Club, Visit Mobile, Via! Health center and two council accounts, Small said he didn’t know the cuts would have an impact on WAVE routes within the city. He said at budget time he had received anonymous letters from concerned citizens claiming misuse of funds by WAVE. He also mentioned local radio advertisements promoting the system.
“If WAVE is really suffering how are these ads being paid for?” Small asked. “With the advertisements and letters, I have concerns over how money is being spent.”
Small encouraged the mayors of Chickasaw, Prichard and Mobile to get together and lobby the federal government for additional funding for WAVE.
“If they can go up to Capitol Hill to talk about the I-10 bridge then I’m sure they can go up to Capitol Hill to talk about transportation,” Small said. “I encourage them to ask our congressman and senator to secure funding to expand transit in our area.”
Angela Cotton has ridden the bus her entire life. With the cuts, she will be without her only form of transportation into Prichard and Mobile to pay bills, take her granddaughter to school, shop and go to the doctor’s office.
“They need to try another strategy,” she said. “They need to think about it a little bit because it affects a lot of jobs. I think they need to go back to the drawing board.”
The Prichard/Plateau bus will now stop at a federally funded transfer hub in downtown Prichard, but that’s two to three miles from Cotton’s apartment.
It costs about $11 per rider to operate the WAVE Transit system, Finance Director Paul Wesch said to open a public hearing on the funding cuts. Of that, riders pay about $1, while federal money pays about $3, Wesch said. The balance, or about $7, is paid by the city.
In addition, Wesch said, while the cities of Prichard and Chickasaw are served by the system without compensation from the other governments, “probably” less than half of Mobile is covered.
Councilman Joel Daves, who joined Councilman Fred Richardson and Manzie on a recent trip to Montgomery to discuss transportation and other issues, said Mobile pays more for transit than Montgomery and Huntsville. Wesch agreed, saying the nearly $6 million subsidy WAVE receives from the city has increased 191 percent in the last decade.
“There’s been a slow but steady increase in the subsidy,” he said. “We don’t know how that occurred, but it rose more rapidly than in other cities. We’re out of balance with peer cities.”
Richardson said systems in Montgomery and Huntsville do not run routes outside of the city limits. He added Birmingham charges Jefferson County municipalities for the service, as part of a transit authority.
Antoinette Bryant, international representative of the Amalgamated Transit Union, said the city operates under a regional transit system in terms of federal money. She added that when Mobile is considered for transportation grants, the city uses Saraland, Prichard and Chickasaw residents.
“You have to provide transit for them,” Bryant said. “I urge you to reconsider the cuts.”
As part of the approved cuts, the crosstown bus route will no longer travel through portions of Chickasaw and Prichard. The Tillman’s Corner circulator would be cut as well.
Disabled and elderly WAVE customers in those areas would no longer be able to use services through the Mobility Assistance Program, which provides a van service to customers for $2.50 each way for doctor and other appointments, local Amalgamated Transit Union representative Antonie Maiben said. The MAP service is available to anyone in need who lives within three-quarters of a mile from a regular bus route.
Tamika Williams, chapter president of the National Federation of the Blind, said many members would be affected by the changes.
“With these cuts, you’re basically taking the livelihood away from these members,” Williams said.
In addition to the elimination of those routes, the Highway 90 bus route with service to Pleasant Valley Road, Interstate 65 Service Road and Bel Air Mall would be consolidated with a Broad Street bus servicing the same area, Parker said, as well as McGowin Park.
The plan also calls for service to end at 7 p.m. for many routes. Maiben said four routes currently run up to 10:45 p.m. The routes affected include the Plateau/Prichard bus, the Highway 45 bus and the Highway 90 bus. Those buses would also eliminate Saturday service under the plan. The MODA downtown would also eliminate Saturday service and modify its weekday service.