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OPINION: Downtown Bus Service Concerns

Karen ShadeJune 30, 2019

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool fan of CityGo, Salina’s public transportation provider that is managed through OCCK.  But my confidence in City Go’s management has been badly shaken in the last 72 hours.

Prior to the downtown remodel, CityGo operated five stops directly on Santa Fe.  These were located at:

  • Santa Fe & Ash (NW corner)
  • Santa Fe & Iron (NW corner)
  • Santa Fe & Mulberry
  • Santa Fe & Iron (SE corner)
  • Santa Fe & Ash (NE corner)

During construction, CityGo buses often avoid Santa Fe entirely.  Most buses go down neighboring streets, like Fifth, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth.  A variety of east/west bound streets are also used.  Things change so frequently that drivers may use one set of street at 1:00 PM and another set of streets completely at 2:00 PM.  They rely on other CityGo drivers to keep them updated on what’s going on.

At Monday’s Salina City Commission study session, city commissioners heard budget requests from outside agencies, including OCCK.  In a stunner, Patrick Wallerius, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer with OCCK described the challenges CityGo buses might have going down Santa Fe.  I was so startled that I didn’t write down his exact words.  But essentially, given present realities, it may be unlikely OCCK will approve sending CityGo buses down Santa Fe.

Among the issues identified are:

  • Planters that are long and wide enough to interfere with individuals getting on and off the bus.
  • With essentially three lanes of traffic, the buses would block traffic at any Santa Fe stops. This would impact turning lanes and parking spots.  Wallerius said that businesses would have to forfeit 18-20 parking spots to be able to restore stops on Santa Fe.
  • Issues with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility include just where to put the bus so the wheelchair ramp can fully extend. The estimated time for loading and unloading wheelchairs is about 4-5 minutes.  How happy will other drivers be waiting behind a CityGo bus loading/unloading a wheelchair bound passenger?
  • The color scheme for the benches is “black” but CityGo benches are “green”. Because people might congregate randomly on the benches, CityGo drivers wouldn’t know who the actual riders might be.

After the OCCK presentation, I asked Wallerius why OCCK “didn’t have their butts in the seats” at the many different meetings when plans were being made.  City of Salina’s Lead Engineer Dan Stack said my question was unfair as the downtown streetscape improvements have been discussed “for years”.

I’ve got a feeling a lot of CityGo riders will be living with these poor planning decisions for years.  Personally, I use a downtown bank.  Now, I get off the CityGo bus at “traintracks”, near Assurance Partners on Iron and Front and walk two half-blocks, two “regular” blocks and one “extra long” block to go to the bank and then reach City Go’s transportation hub at 7th and Walnut.  In the winter, the ice is not always removed.  In the summer, the bank can’t open soon enough as I try to avoid the heat.  And as my health declines, I may be managing this while on oxygen.

Speaking at Monday’s Open Forum, I can’t understand how the city commission and staff didn’t realize the “three lane design” would essentially push CityGo off of Santa Fe.  I’ve always been more concerned about how fire trucks and ambulances movement might be impacted.

Now, three City Commission seats are open in the November election.  Quite a few candidates have had some decision making authority over the downtown streetscape, including:  Mayor Trent Davis and Commissioner Karl Ryan, former Commissioner Jon Blanchard, and former City of Salina Business Manager Rod Franz.  I will do what I can to help voters understand the impact of their decision making.

CityGo Routes Didn’t Run on Time on Saturday

 CityGo buses run from 9 AM to 5 PM on Saturday.  For the first 70-80 minutes, no buses ran.  At the time, calls to the CityGo office went unanswered.

One driver said that after buses rolled out of the OCCK bus barn (likely after 8:30 AM), they discovered Walnut Street was being paved for several blocks in either direction of the 7th and Walnut transportation hub.  Michelle Griffin, OCCK Director, said the problem was caused by a “protocol glitch”.

City Manager Mike Schrage’s response to my e-mail said that the City’s public work’s department went out on Friday afternoon.  It did include OCCK reps.  Schrage wrote that the City had a “staff person on site to direct traffic as the street work was being done, but that it required the OCCK buses to make a U turn.”

Schrage said that the City has “coordinated with OCCK and added 3 more people to the press release distribution list as well as reviewed the need for direct contact on projects that impact major routes.”  He concluded with apologies to those impacted.

Griffin initially said OCCK had no plans to staff an office phone on Saturday.  I’m not up on technology but it seems to me that that line could be made portable, with a simple cell phone.  Griffin said drivers can’t use the phone while driving.  True, but some use their personal phones when waiting at timed stops (where the bus is running a few minutes early and waits to an appointed time before continuing on the route).  From 9-10 AM last Saturday, I can’t believe that one of those five drivers couldn’t have answered phone calls.  At the least, someone from CityGo should have called the non-emergency dispatch line so firefighters and police officers could be aware that some individuals at bus stops might be unprepared (without water, sunscreen, and protection from oppressive heat) and could possibly be stranded.

There have been many staffing changes at OCCK; I’ve seen CityGo supervisors handle similar situations in more timely and satisfactory ways in the past.  Let’s hope the learning curve is brief.

Are Taxis Any Better?

A few years ago, I temped at the City’s Central Garage.  Taxi cabs were required to pass an inspection (I believe twice a year).  One company brought their cabs in on time and their cabs consistently passed inspection.  So, that’s the cab company I’ve used when I needed a cab.

In the last month, I called a cab four times.  Three times, the cab driver arrived 30-60 minutes later than the time estimate the dispatcher gave me.  One time, the driver spent 20 minutes at my destination, checking out a shop that was new to him.

There have been multiple times when I’ve had the desire and money to go out for a meal and take in a show.  I haven’t gone because I calculated how I’d feel if the cab is late on one or two directions, I found I’d just as soon go to bed early.

A group of thirty-year olds I know enjoy going out dancing and drinking.  There are places they like to go, but they often don’t because public transportation isn’t available.  Buses make their last drop-offs from 8-9 PM on Mondays-Fridays; on Saturday, the last drop-offs occur from 4-5 PM.  Some cab companies won’t run if one of their other drivers calls off a shift.  There are plenty of food/beverage hospitality workers who get off way past 8 PM or need transportation on Sundays.  When I ask how they manage, they roll their eyes.

We hear some complain that Salina doesn’t have enough activities to satisfy them.  We also hear that there just aren’t any suitable workers.  All of this might be a problem with public transportation.  And, given both the City and County’s interest in “sales tax revenue”, one would think they’d be interested in providing better oversight.

Can’t Salina do better?

Opinion piece written by Karen Shade of Salina

Copyright © Rocking M Media, 2019. All Rights Reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced without Rocking M Media’s express consent.

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