Neither the cities of Prichard nor Chickasaw seem willing to pay for WAVE service on what the public transportation system’s general manager called some of its least productive routes.
Prichard Mayor Troy Ephriam and Chickasaw Councilman Adam Bourne told visitors last week at a public hearing on the proposed changes to bus routes that their respective cities could not afford to pay for the service and instead implored WAVE leadership to leave the routes intact.
Funding the two routes WAVE will cut from Prichard would cost the city $584,000 per year, Ephriam said, adding they have never had to pay for the system before. He read from a proclamation as members of the Prichard City Council stood with him at the podium.
“We stand in opposition to any proposed changes to routes of the WAVE transit system,” Ephriam said. “In order for us to reverse the action of the city of Mobile, we must make a concerted, collective effort to demand it resume the routes.”
Bourne said the Chickasaw City Council received a letter a few weeks ago telling them maintaining service to the one stop in their city would cost $60,000 per year, which they hadn’t budgeted for.
“Please keep this for us,” Bourne said. “Our residents need it. Find a way to keep service available.”
The proposal to cut most of six routes that travel outside of Mobile, including two in Prichard and one in Chickasaw, comes months after the Mobile City Council cut more than $700,000 allocated for WAVE and its operator, McDonald Transit, from Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s proposed 2016 budget. Councilman C.J. Small has since implored his fellow councilors and Stimpson to reverse their decision and put the money back in the WAVE budget.
“It’s always been subsidized through grants …,” Ephriam said of the service. “There’s no reason $700,000 should affect a multi-million-dollar transit system.”
WAVE’s budget totals about $10 million per year. Mobile pays the lion’s share, with an allocation nearing $6 million. Ellen Carter, president of the citizens advisory group for WAVE, said additional cuts could lead to public transportation services like that available in Montgomery, which pays far less.
“I use the buses because I believe a growing city needs to have great buses,” she said. “If we’re going to be a tourist city, we need to think like New York and not Montgomery.”
Carter said Montgomery has “one of the most embarrassing services” she’s ever seen.
“Don’t go along with the idea to cut back like Montgomery,” she said. “Do not buy into the message, please.”
WAVE General Manager Tyrone Parker told the crowd the routes being cut were among the system’s most inefficient. For example, the Tillman’s Corner circulator, which services an unincorporated portion of South Mobile County, averaged less than three riders per hour, Parker said. The Tillman’s Corner bus was the 13th most inefficient route.
Other routes on the chopping block include portions of the Crosstown bus route, which travels through Prichard and Chickasaw, and the Prichard/Plateau bus, both of which average only seven passengers per hour.
In contrast, routes such as the Highway 45 bus and the Dauphin Street bus average 15 and 11 passengers per hour, respectively.
In addition to cutting routes through Prichard and Chickasaw, WAVE is proposing consolidation and an end to night service on other routes.
The proposal would end service at 7 p.m. for the Highway 45 bus, the Dauphin Street bus, the Broad Street bus and portions of the Crosstown route within the city. Service for the Highway 90 bus along Pleasant Valley Road will be consolidated into the Broad Street route with a service extension to McGowin Park. Many weekday schedules will also be modified as part of the plan.
South Alabama Regional Planning Commission director Kevin Harrison said the organization’s long-range plan recommended changes, but many of those were to increase service, not decrease it. Cutting service results in many riders being unable to get to jobs within the Mobile city limits.
“I understand the city is in a tough situation, but by cutting service, you’re cutting our economy,” he said.
SARPC recommended 30-minute service on fixed routes as part of a third phase for public transportation improvements for the years 2019 to 2024. This, along with an additional flex route, is estimated to cost more than $6 million per year.
Other SARPC recommendations included immediate consolidation of routes through Plateau, Prichard and Highway 45, which would be cost neutral. SARPC also recommended a route that would run from the Shoppes at Bel Air to Mobile Regional Airport, as well as other route changes.
“We would like to see service expanded throughout Mobile County,” Harrison said. “This is kind of going in the opposite direction. We should be investing in it and not cutting it back.”
Harrison acknowledged ridership is lower now than it has been in the past, but added low gas prices could be the reason.