Proposed route changes could leave bus riders in Mobile and the surrounding area with even fewer transportation options.
The plans, which would eliminate routes in three areas outside the city while consolidating or modifying others, are an attempt by WAVE to make up a $700,000 deficit after the City Council reduced its budget last fall. The plans are based on the administration’s directive to “right size” Mobile’s transit system, director Tyrone Parker wrote in an email.
If approved, Chickasaw, Prichard and portions of Tillman’s Corner would be most negatively impacted by the changes. Mobile had been paying as much as $6 million a year for WAVE, with no financial help from Prichard, Chickasaw or the county. In total, WAVE has six routes crossing into those three areas.
As part of the proposal, the crosstown bus route will no longer travel through portions of Chickasaw and Prichard, while a route taking the No. 16 bus to Happy Hills and on to the Eight Mile Shopping Center would also be eliminated. The Tillman’s Corner circulator would be cut as well.
Antonie Maiben, president of the Local Amalgamated Transit Union chapter, said the change would cut buses off from the northern end of Prichard. Residents who normally catch the bus in that area and travel to Mobile to work would have to find another form of transportation to stops farther south. If the proposed changes go into effect, WAVE would only have one federally funded route remaining in Prichard, Maiben said Tuesday.
Members of the union joined together with the local chapter of the NAACP and residents before and during the Mobile City Council meeting to protest the proposal. Before the meeting protesters held up signs and shouted a plea to get rid of McDonald Transit, the third-party company that manages WAVE for the city. During the portion of the meeting where Mayor Sandy Stimpson gives announcements, protesters stood up and turned their backs as he spoke, before leaving the auditorium altogether.
Maiben said the silent protest was directed at Stimpson and the City Council for making the funding cuts to the budget.
Councilman C.J. Small called on Stimpson during the meeting to commission a city transit study to help assess the system’s needs. Small said he knew of the cuts but didn’t know how drastic they’d be. In a statement emailed Tuesday afternoon, Small implored Stimpson and his fellow councilors to restore the funding to WAVE. The council voted 6-1 in September to approve a $703,640 reduction for WAVE from what was proposed in Stimpson’s 2016 budget.
Part of the money taken from WAVE was given to help provide summer recreation and education to children in Small’s district. The council also increased its discretionary fund by $70,000 with a portion of the transit money. Another $60,000 was put into the City Council operating fund and $35,000 was given to the area Boys and Girls Clubs.
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, Maiben said. The MAP service is available to anyone in need within three quarters of a mile from a regular bus route, Parker wrote.
For a number of years, Mobile Bay Transportation has had an agreement in place with McDonald Transit, the manager of WAVE, to take any overflow from customers using this service, a representative for Mobile Bay Transportation said. Since the MAP service can only be used along WAVE routes and must be reserved 24 hours in advance, Mobile Bay Transportation can pick up those disabled or elderly customers at half the normal fare rate if WAVE can’t.
The representative for the company, which is owned by state representative and current Mobile County Commission candidate Margie Wilcox, confirmed that McDonald had notified them of the route changes, but they haven’t been told how many customers are on the impacted routes.
The representative stressed that the service they provide wouldn’t be a replacement for the WAVE’s MAP service. Wilcox is listed as a member of the technical coordinating committee of the Mobile Metropolitan Planning Organization.
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.
The proposal 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, the Broad Street 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.
Prichard Councilman Lorenzo Martin suggested setting up a countywide transit authority to manage the system. He said Prichard, Chickasaw and the county would have to help with funding because it’s needed everywhere.
“I can’t blame Mobile for making cuts,” Martin said. “The rest of the county needs to help.”
When asked if Prichard could afford to help Mobile pay for the bus system, Martin said “We have to.”
A public hearing on the proposed changes is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at the GM&O Transportation Center. Comments can also be mailed to: The Wave Transit System, GM&O Transportation Center, 10 Beauregard St., Suite 104, Mobile, AL 36602. Written submissions will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Friday, March 11.
Updated to add additional comments from Councilman C.J. Small.
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