The Mobile City Council approved a citizens’ transit advisory committee on Tuesday, despite the formation of a similar independent group earlier this year.
The new council-appointed group would meet to make suggestions to the council on improvements to the city’s public transportation system, Councilman Fred Richardson, the ordinance’s co-sponsor, said.
“There is absolutely no communication between the transit system and council,” Richardson said. “We need to get a group of riders together.”
Councilman Levon Manzie is the ordinance’s co-sponsor.
Richardson said he knew of residents who have complained about Wave Transit System routes and the buses’ hours of operation and suggested the citizens’ group could review them.
According to the ordinance, the group will consist of nine members, one member appointed by each of the seven council members and two others representing the disabled community.
Members must live within Mobile County, according to the ordinance, be residents of Mobile and be interested in improving the city’s transit system. They can’t be employed by the city or Wave and can’t have any financial interest tied to the city.
The first members appointed to the committee will serve terms ending Oct. 31, 2017. Members will then serve two-year terms. It will be a volunteer committee.
But Ellen Carter, a Wave rider, said another transportation advisory group made up of citizens is already meeting with the goal of making improvements to everything involving the city’s transportation system. She said the group’s first meeting was in April and its 15 active members have already set up committees to help start improvement projects.
At the most recent meeting in July, she said, one committee has been set up to add a shelter around the bus stop at Mobile Infirmary. Additionally, a committee was formed to hand out recognition awards to transit employees who are viewed to demonstrate good customer service.
Carter lives in Mississippi but works downtown, and while she owns a car, she takes the bus almost everywhere she can.
Another suggestion from the group was to designate certain experienced riders as ambassadors and have them ride with less experienced riders to help educate them on the system, Carter said. For example, she offered, the University of South Alabama campus is going to be “wide open” in two weeks. These ambassadors could be used to show students how to ride the bus around town.
“People could be trained on how to ride the bus and the ins and outs of doing it,” Carter said.
Carter’s group is also made up of riders and while there are 15 active members, she said more than 45 expressed interest in joining.
Carter wondered why the council wanted to appoint a second committee, especially when her group was preparing to come before the City Council and offer help.
“We had a plan to go before the council,” she said. “We wanted to say ‘we’re willing to help.’”
Richardson said the new group would be chosen by council would help give them a little bit more authority on the transit issue than Carter’s group.
“We don’t know who they are and they are not appointed by us,” he said of Carter’s group.
Carter came to a council pre-conference meeting on Tuesday before the vote to tell councilors about the current committee. Council President Gina Gregory told Carter the existence of the group was “news to us.” Councilors discussed possibly appointing members of Carter’s committee to the council committee.
Councilman Joel Daves said he didn’t think two advisory committees were needed.
The South Alabama Regional Planning Commission (SARPC) made recommendations earlier this year to help improve Wave’s service. 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 a year.
Other SARPC recommendations include immediate consolidation of routes through Plateau, Prichard and U.S. Highway 45, which would be cost neutral. SARPC also recommended a route running from Bel Air Mall to Mobile Regional Airport, as well as other route changes.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration is also eyeing changes to the service, after reports last year indicated the city footed about 60 percent of the $10 million bill for Wave, which is operated by McDonald Transit. At the time, officials with the administration said they would make recommendations to try and save money.