Council Derails Public Transit

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The Payson Town Council voted against moving forward on public transit last night.

By a 5-1 vote, the council declined to proceed with a grant application that had to be submitted to the Arizona Department of Transportation by Feb. 25. Had the council approved moving forward there still would have been two opportunities to back away from public transit before the buses started rolling.

But several councilors expressed the sentiment that the annual estimated cost to the town of $110,000 was simply too great.

"I don't think we should continue past practices I feel have occurred of committing funds for lower priority items, and then when you get around to the higher priority items you don't have the money to support them," Councilor George Barriger said.

Among the reasons given by Councilor Dick Reese for opposing public transit was the condition of town streets, which he called "sick."

Reese also said the two buses that would traverse the routes, similar to the bus operated by Mazatzal Casino, would further damage the streets. And despite the fact that two open houses and two work study sessions were held on the subject, he showed concern about a lack of public input.

"The citizens weren't surveyed on that; they weren't polled," he said. "Why don't we do that?"

By voting against public transit, the council rejected the advice of two consultants and an in-depth study showing that the town needs, and would support public transit.

The study, conducted by Rob Bohannan, transportation planner for Valley-based Lima & Associates, indicated that four communities smaller than Payson -- Bisbee, Coolidge, Cottonwood and Miami -- already offer public transportation, despite the fact that Payson has more seniors, who are most likely to utilize it.

In the study, Bohannan estimated an annual ridership of 40,000 based on information on rural ridership statistics developed by the Transportation Research Board's Transit Cooperative Research Project.

At a special meeting on Feb. 2, the council heard a presentation by Amy Ostrander of Denver-based Ostrander Consulting, Inc. She was hired by ADOT to verify the conclusions reached by Bohannan.

Ostrander used two other methodologies to verify Bohannan's ridership numbers.

"I found that the initial estimate of ridership was conservative and attainable," she said.

Reese questioned their research Thursday night.

"I don't think we'll get the ridership that's forecast in the feasibility study," he said. "I don't trust the numbers I see."

He also questioned Ostrander's assertion that each bus would replace eight passenger vehicles.

Vice Mayor Judy Buettner, the only councilor to vote for public transit, had expected the measure to pass.

"It is a public service," Buettner said. "Our community is growing and I think it's, frankly, time that we provide this public service for our citizens -- not just for senior citizens, but those who have trouble getting to work and to their school activities, and those who would just rather take the bus."

After the meeting she expressed her disappointment, explaining that the next phase was to look for additional grants and other ways to reduce the cost of the program to the town.

"I really felt that more (councilors) would want to continue to the next step," she said. "I'm disappointed in that. I think we put a lot of effort into it to stop before we get all the final answers."

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