More than six months after WAVE Transit cut all but one route in Prichard, the system’s replacement is in peril of closing.
Comfort Coach, which began running the two routes cut by WAVE in April, had been operating at no charge to the city or riders, but the consortium of businesses and private citizens which helped fund the service is now looking for public assistance, Prichard Chief of Staff Philip Stiehl said.
“They have submitted a proposal to continue its service,” Stiehl said. “In order for service to continue there was some payment expected from the city, or through fares.”
Mayor Troy Ephriam, a private donor for the service, presented the proposal to the City Council a couple of weeks ago, but the council has yet to act on it.
The original agreement with Comfort Coach was temporary and was scheduled to expire in mid-November. Stiehl said the service has been “extremely helpful” in getting Prichard residents to work and other appointments in the absence of WAVE.
“It has minimized the impact,” he said.
During the budget process last September, the Mobile City Council cut more than $700,000 from its general fund transfer to WAVE. Before the cut, Mobile was paying more than $6 million of the system’s $10 million budget; the other $4 million came from federal grant funds.
Both routes most affected by the cuts came through Prichard. One bus went through Plateau into Eight Mile and another stopped in Chickasaw. Both of those WAVE buses now terminate at a federally funded transfer station in downtown Prichard.
Prichard Mayor-elect Jimmie Gardner said he hasn’t yet had an opportunity to get involved in the transit discussion, but acknowledged that support for Comfort Coach was beginning to run out. He also said public transportation, like public safety, is one of the most important services a city can provide to residents.
“We’ve got to have public transportation,” he said.
Gardner said he plans to meet with leaders from other small cities in the county to devise a plan for a countywide transportation system and present the idea to the Mobile County Commission.
“We have to come up with something more,” he said. “We all need to join together.”
Councilman Lorenzo Martin, who did not return a call seeking comment for this story by press time, has previously stated he’d be in favor of creating a countywide system similar to Baldwin County’s Baldwin Rural Area Transit System.
Gardner said he didn’t want to “get ahead of himself” with plans for the service and again mentioned the possibility of appointing a steering committee to look into the issue. He has previously stated that a steering committee could look into the feasibility of the city creating its own transportation authority and seeking local, state and federal funding sources for the future service.