Monday, January 30, 2006

Busses or a bus station?

Every day I use Knoxville Area Transit busses to get to and from work. Indeed, for most people with a disability, living in a town with even a halfway decent transit system is not a preference, or even a personal choice. If you want to hold down an occupation of your own the bus is your lifeline. To not live where there is effective transit is to say “I shall not work for a living.”

As a result of having to depend on the KAT bus system, anything that involves the bus system and how it will function is of immediate interest to me. This is the one issue that has a very direct impact on my life, and the decisions KAT officials make can determine my ability to provide for my family.

In the case of KAT’s present line of thought, nothing will fundamentally change in the short term for me, but it does leave me scratching my head. A few months back, KAT raised fares beginning this year, supposedly because of higher fuel prices. In the last couple of months, KAT has decided to eliminate a few routes because of low rider ship. Fortunately for me, they didn’t axe the route that goes right by my home, even though they considered it. Again, the reason for these cuts is a shortage of money, we are told.

Yet in the wake of these cuts, KAT can afford to build a downtown transfer center, another name for a brand spanking new bus station, right in the center of town. I’m not saying that the transfer center/bus station isn’t a good idea. In fact, if you use the bus system here in Knoxville (or in any city with a public transit system) you know just how useful such a bus station can be. Often, you need to switch busses to get where you are going, and it might be raining or cold, and you’d like to be in a place that is warm and dry while you wait on your connection. Maybe your bus will be along in fifteen minutes and you are hungry. You have time to eat a quick lunch, but in the time it would take you to run to the nearest restaurant and stand in line, your bus will have come and gone. With a bus station, you can grab a quick bite while you wait. There are advantages to building a facility like the new one downtown KAT proposes.

I have lived in two other cities on my own besides Knoxville. One, Dayton, Ohio, was about the size of Knoxville in terms of area and population. Like Knoxville, Dayton had a significant population of college students who attended either The University of Dayton or Wright State University. Dayton has one of the most accessible transit systems for people with disabilities to be found anywhere in the country, and RTA had many more riders than KAT. Yet when I lived there, Dayton did not have a bus station like the one KAT wants to build. The closest thing they had to this was a small building where you could go to purchase bus tokens and passes, often through a window.

Rather than have a fancy transfer station, Dayton transit officials preferred to spend money on things like more drivers and routes that ran longer into the evening. Often, my day is not over at 6:00pm, but that is when the last KAT bus comes by my home. After six, I have to ask someone else if they will take me where I might need to go. Thank God I am married.

I am not opposed to the idea of a downtown transfer station, but before we invest in one, wouldn't it be better for KAT to get their priorities in order, and use some of that money to hire more drivers and run more routes?


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