A small but important investment in public transit
It may seem a relatively unimportant issue, but in truth it is very symbolic because it recognizes a reality that is upon us.
I’m talking about a request that will come before the Waynesville Town Board this month concerning public transit benches and shelters at large retail centers. Mountain Projects transit director Susan Anderson hopes the town will pass an ordinance requiring stores to install waiting areas for public transit patrons.
Haywood Public Transit does not run regular routes like typical city buses. Instead, it operates “on-demand” as patrons call to arrange for rides. The system makes up to 60,000 trips a year, mostly for elderly and disabled patrons. Customers who request a ride, though, may have to wait up to two hours for pick-up since the schedule is always in flux.
“It takes us a little while to get to them. That leaves them there standing with bags or standing with a (shopping) cart. It is really difficult for (the elderly and disabled) to stand outside a store for 15 minutes or more,” said Anderson.
Right now, Waynesville has an ordinance requiring shelters only if a business is on a regularly-timed transit route. Since there are no regular routes, the ordinance is irrelevant to the current situation.
Here’s the reality in Haywood County. Almost 22 percent of the population is over 65, and that percentage is expected to rise quickly during the next few decades. It, like most of Western North Carolina, is much older than the rest of the state, where 13.2 percent of the population is over 65.
In addition, 12.3 percent of the county’s population lives below poverty. That means it is a struggle for many of those elderly folks to afford a car even if they are still able to drive.
In addition to planning for the growing aging population, it’s also important that we encourage public transit where applicable. Small towns and rural areas don’t typically have the population centers that would make large-scale public transit investments feasible. But providing comfortable shelters is something we can do, and it would very likely encourage more people to use the limited transit system we do have. That makes this a good idea for the transit patrons, for the retail stores who will get the business, and for the community at large.
As this idea moves forward, it is important that a lot of thought and planning go into the location of the shelters. As Philan Medford pointed out, it seems much smarter for a shelter at Ingles to be near the entrance to the store rather than across the parking lot. This kind of common-sense approach often spells the difference between success and failure — i.e., use versus non-use — when it comes to pubic transit.
Waynesville has made a name for itself as a leader in smart land use and planning among the small towns in Western North Carolina. Taking this small but important step to promote public transit and help those who rely on it would strengthen this reputation.