Make your voice heard! Time to give some input into the transportation system.
My first car was a yellow AMC Pacer complete with an in-dash 8-track player. It was very round and had huge windows. It was like driving around in a big glass egg. Sounds cool right? Coolness (or lack thereof) aside, from the moment I first turned the key in the ignition of that yellow Pacer until this very moment I have never seriously worried about transportation. A few flat tires and other mal-functions notwithstanding, I have always had an operable vehicle and the means to drive it just about anywhere I wanted to go. And, oblivious well-off person that I am, I have always taken that luxury more or less for granted.
According to the Census Bureau’s 2008-2012 American Community Survey 5-year estimates, there are over four thousand households in Waco with no vehicle available. Those of us who have always had cars may have to let the implications of that sink in for a bit before we can even imagine what life without a vehicle would mean on a day to day basis. I have always taken for granted, for example, that I could get to work at any hour that my employer required. If I forgot something I needed, I have always been able to run home at lunch and get it. I have always taken for granted that I could get the milk and ice cream home before it was spoiled. I have never had to think about how heavy my groceries were and whether or not I would be able to carry them all the way home. I have rarely thought twice about being able to drive to the doctor in air-conditioned comfort if I was feeling bad. For households with no vehicles, these “simple” day to day activities require planning and negotiation, and of course the planning and negotiation is made many, many times more complicated if there are kids in the picture.
Our city is designed around the notion that our residents have dependable transportation. For example, many of our children now attend schools in neighborhoods other than their own. Our grocery stores and drug stores are not located in our residential areas. Perhaps even more important, neither are our workplaces. According to a recent report by the Upjohn Institute to Waco City Council, only 4.6% of the people in Waco work in the same census tract where they live. Transportation is not just a matter of convenience. It has consequences for health, education and certainly for employment.
For people who do not have access to a private vehicle, public transit is a lifeline. In Waco that lifeline is pretty thin. First of all, in Waco the bus only comes around once an hour. It only operates during limited hours: Monday through Friday from 5:00 AM to 7:00 PM; Saturday from 6:00 AM – 8:00 PM; no service on Sundays. Also, our bus system is a “hub and spoke” system with all routes radiating from the Transit Center on Eighth street downtown. That means if you need to change buses to travel across town, it could end up taking you more than an hour to get to where you are going.
All of this has implications for employment. If you depend on public transportation, you can’t, for example, have a job that requires you to work on Sundays. If you miss your bus you could be an hour or more late to work. In recent years, we have added the evening LINK, a limited “reservation only” service that people can use to go to work or school between 8:30 and 11: 45 PM. That service has helped some for people who want to be able to work shifts that end after 7:00 PM, but additional service with shorter wait times would make the bus a much more viable option for getting back and forth to work.
I attended a meeting the other day hosted by Waco Transit in which the speaker discussed some of these realities. At the end of the presentation one of the questions he asked was: “Do you believe there is community and political support to increase public transit in the Waco community?” I hope so, for many reasons. Even though I may never personally have to depend on a city bus, I would like to be able to use it sometimes. Also, I am better off if my community is better off, and I believe my community is better off with stronger public transportation. Our community is better off if people who cannot yet afford a car have a dependable way to get back and forth to work in a reasonable amount of time. Our community is better off if families of modest means can get by with one vehicle instead of having to spend precious resources on a second car. Also, as Waco grows in population (and it will), a good public transit system will help us keep the traffic and congestion to a level that we can all tolerate. (Beware the traffic of Austin, my friends!) Selfishly, as I get older, I imagine there will come a time when I can no longer drive my own car. I believe our community is better off if our seniors have a bus system they can depend on to maintain some level of independence.
The Greater Waco Community only has a certain amount of money allocated for transportation related expenses. Our city planners are asking to hear from us about how we would like to see it spent. They have invited us to give our input at a series of public information meetings to be held at different locations around town during the next few weeks, see the details below. I hope you will attend and let them know that you would like to see some of that money invested in a more robust public transit system.
Here’s the invitation: The MPO staff would like to invite all interested persons to attend any of the following meetings regarding development of the new 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan. Monday, May 5, 2014 – 6 p.m. at Hewitt Community Center, 208 Chama Drive. Thursday, May 8, 2014 – 6 p.m. at Lacy Lakeview Civic Center, 505 Craven. Monday, May 12, 2014 – 6 p.m. at South Waco Community Center, 2815 Speight. Thursday, May 15, 2014 – 12 Noon at Dr. Mae Jackson Development Center, City of Waco, 401 Franklin Ave. For more information please visit the website: www.waco-texas.com/cms-mpo .
This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, the Manager of the www.www.actlocallywaco.org website and the editor of the Friday Update newsletter. The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.