Payson may be on the road to securing a regular means of public transportation.
"Since June, we have been meeting with (the Central Arizona Council of Governments) to see about getting a study started," Payson Town Councilor Judy Buettner said.
She said the town is now in the process of entering a partnership with CAAG and the Arizona Department of Transportation to begin a feasibility study of public transportation needs in Payson.
Once there is an intergovernmental agreement, a consultant will be hired, a committee formed and public discussion started.
The agreement is on the agenda for the Dec. 11 council meeting, according to Town Manager Fred Carpenter.
"Once the (agreement) is approved by the council, it goes down to ADOT," Carpenter said. "It takes them awhile to sign off on this. Then we will select a consultant to do the transit study from those who have done this work in the past for ADOT."
Carpenter said during the consultant's work, a residents committee will be organized to help with the project.
Buettner said various segments of Payson will be brought together in a committee to determine if public transportation is needed.
"If that consensus is reached, the town of Payson will go forward in cooperation with ADOT and CAAG with the project," she said. "We want all the effort we can get on this so that it's successful."
ADOT will pick up 80 percent of the study cost, she said. CAAG is picking up 80 percent of the town's 20 percent share, she said, leaving only about $4,000 in match money for the town to cover.
Carpenter said the study will cost about $70,000. He said the town has unexpected money from the lottery for transportation and that will be used to pay part of the town's share of the study cost.
"It is going to cost us about $2,800," Carpenter said.
He said he does not expect to see actual results until sometime in late 2005.
"This was something I wanted to see happen," said Vice Mayor Barbara Brewer. "I think it's really great. With 49 percent of our population being retirees, a lot of them can't or don't want to drive themselves around, so this will be an opportunity to help them be less shut in."
The vice mayor said councilors Buettner and Robert Henley are to be commended for their tremendous efforts in moving the public transportation issue this far forward.
Cory Houghton of the Payson Regional Medical Center's Senior Circle and Marsha Cauley, director of the Payson Senior Citizens Center, work with many of the community's elderly on a daily basis. They are both all for a public transit system to assist the town's senior residents.
"I've been looking at a couple of different programs -- I found a rural community in Washington that received $450,000 in state and federal grants to develop public transit," Houghton said. "We need to start with four, 24-passenger buses to get people around to shopping, the doctor, the dentist, and to the Valley to the airport and larger medical facilities."
She said she believes public transportation would provide seniors with independence which is a benefit to both their mental and physical health.
"But public transportation would benefit more than seniors," Houghton said, "it would help the disabled and the low-income, even young people, who need a way around town. Many people who are without transportation and are reluctant to ask for rides from others, so they don't go to the doctor, even if they need to. Some are unable to get a job because they have no way of getting to work.
"We need it desperately," she said. "But it also needs to include an educational component to teach people about the system. Studies show that when a system is implemented many seniors are reluctant to use it because they are afraid of missing their stops."
"What we do is a one-on-one service," Cauley said, "taking seniors shopping, helping them load and unload their groceries and similar things, but we can only afford to offer the service in the morning, which is a problem -- it would be so much better to have a way to get around to afternoon activities as well. One of the most debilitating things to happen to a senior citizen is to lose their driver's license and the loss of independence that follow."
Cauley said a public transportation plan would not interfere with the current transportation offered by the Payson Senior Center.
"It will go hand in glove with us and help seniors be more active," she said.