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When Clarksville Transit System Director Jimmy Smith presented the new route and rate structures to the public Monday evening at the Public Library, there were a few changes from the budget-balancing package approved several weeks ago by the City Council Transportation Committee, not the least of which was a controversial decision to eliminate transfers and replace that option with a second fare for the second length of all cross town trips.
Responding to public concern, Smith said the phone calls, letters and comments he and his staff have received all put the “transfer” issue at the top of the list, with respondents overwhelmingly calling for retention of the transfer system and voicing support for the system wide fare increase of 25 cents, which would raise the cost of a basic bus trip to $1.25.
Unexpectedly, the fare structure presented to the public Monday listed the basic fare as $1.25, with transfers remaining priced at 25 cents. Day passes would jump from $3.00 to $3.50. The fare structure approved by the Transportation Committee would have doubled the transit cost for many riders via the elimination of transfers. CTS responded to customer concern by recommending an across the board fare hike in lieu of the elimination of transfers.
Smith cited increased fuel costs as the prime reason behind the proposed fare hike, noting that prices at the start of the last fiscal year were $2.70 per gallon for diesel, a cost that by year’s end had topped $4.40. “When you are buying 250,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year, that’s a budget buster,” Smith said. “This has been the tightest budget in 22 years.” He noted that the City Council gave CTS a 49% budget increase this year, and added that fares cover approximately 16% of CTS operating costs.
Smith did say the the CTS is committed to offering free bus bus service citywide on critical air quality days (when air qaulity warnings hit the red zone) as a matter of public health and safety.
CTS uses a fleet of 14 buses to provide service to a city of 115 square miles. Smith compared that statistic to Chattanooga, which has 48 buses serving a 128 square mile city. Smith said that his ideal would be to provide free transportation across the city, something that would “enhance the quality of life,” but that’s “not going to happen.”
City Councilor James Doyle, a member of the Transportation Committee, attended the meeting, telling resident that he makes it a point to ride the bus weekly and expressed his familiarity with the issues and the concerns of those dependent on public transportation. Neither Barbara Johnson, chair of the Transportation Committee, nor any other City Councilors or city officials attended the meeting.
The large meeting room was filled with oversized maps outlining proposed route changes that reflect community growth and and the areas to which service has been most frequently requested. The Oak Grove WalMart stop is being dropped from the schedule due to low ridership, while a new extended route along Tiny Town Road will now service the Great Escape Theaters. Smith noted that the community of Oak Grove, Kentucky, contributes nothing to the operation of CTS service in that town. Smith also presented changes that has already added service to the new Gateway Health center as an addition to the Governor Square Mall route. An additional bus bring the total to three vehicles serving that Mall/Hospital route (bus # 6) in a timely fashion.
“Our greatest request for service was to the St. Bethlehem, Trenton Road and Great Escape area,” Smith said. While portions of Trenton Road were not suitable for service at this time, future plans to improve that road will also impact accessibility by bus.
“If Clarksville is to be a city, we need transportation. How can a city progress without buses running at night and on Sunday?” Smith was asked.
Smith candidly explained that the surge in development in some sections of the city is not always the impetus to expand bus service in those areas. Smith cited a link between between development and housing as the key force driving potential bus routes. While night and Sunday service is the ideal, the demand is not there yet, in comparison to the need to fill in other gaps in the schedule.
“That’s what these new changes, especially the Tiny Town expanded service, is doing,” Smith said.
When you have a destination, people need service to get to that destination, Smith said, citing multi-use zoning that integrates business, medical offices and other “destinations” as the driving force in creating a need for additional or expanded bus routes. He pointed to the opening of the new hospital as a critical factor in altering the Route bus service.
Requests for late night and Sunday service were presented, and have been continually requested, but Smith explained that while these options are the “ideal,” they are not on the planning board at this time. Requests to expand service to the county were heard but rejected with the words “before we can cover the county, we need to cover al of Clarksville.”
“We know the system is not perfect,” Smith said, in responding to questions, adding that the new route changes will now service the Social Security office, and requests to provide service closer to the Department of Motor Vehicles, which issues photo ID cards to non-drivers, has also been considered.
Smith also presented the new bus service acround the APSU campus, which will be free to APSU students and staff with the appropriate ID, and will be available to the public at the normal fare.
The adjustments made by CTS to the fare and route schedules approved by the Transportation committee will be resubmitted to the Transportation Committee for final approval at their August 25th meeting at 4:00 p.m. in the City Hall Conference Room One Public Square 4th Floor. The new routes and rate changes, once approved by the Transportation Committee, will become official on September 1.
Unlike many city meetings where the public speaks only after the business of the day is complete, the CTS was a refreshing presentation that welcomed public input and had already responded to many CTS customer concerns, something that was reflected in the changes presented Monday night. It was one of the few times a public hearing ended with a round of applause for the presenters.
Anyone having questions or comments, or to get more information about the public hearing, may contact the Clarksville Transit System at (931) 553-2430 or write the Clarksville Transit System, 430 Boillin Lane, Clarksville, Tennessee, 37040.
SectionsBusiness, News, Politics
TopicsAustin Peay State University, Business, Clarksville Transit System, fuel costs, Government, News, Politics, public service, public transportation
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