Bus System Changes to Help Area Workers

City of Asheville Transit 2_0505by Thad Eckard

What happens when an employee scheduled to work on Sunday can’t afford a car? How does a worker make it home after working a shift that ends after buses quit running for the day?

What does a worker do when the bus they take to work will not start running until 6 a.m., the same time her boss expects her to clock in?

“I would get off work at 6 a.m. Saturday mornings, after working third shift at the McDonald’s on Tunnel Road,” said Asheville native Calvin Allen. “And I wouldn’t get home until 9.”

Allen, who is now a member of the Asheville Transit Committee and one of the worker-owners of Ujamaa Freedom Market, worked at McDonald’s for two years, waiting at least an hour for the buses to start running every Saturday after working an eight-hour night shift by himself.

That is why Allen decided to get involved in trying to effect change to the system. He has been a member of the Transit Committee since April, but his position on the Committee is a milestone he celebrates with dozens of others who work for positive change to the transit system.

Since the end of 2012, he has been working with local volunteers and organizations to make the system more beneficial for riders. The campaign originated from the minds of folks participating in Voices for Economic Justice, a leadership training program initiated through Just Economics. From this original group formed the People’s Voice on Transportation Equality campaign and survey.

“There have been a couple of dozen volunteers involved in this effort for about a year and a half now,” said Vicki Meath, executive director of Just Economics. Campaign organizers helped identify problems area residents had with the system by surveying riders, collecting data and analyzing feedback from those surveys.

“From our own volunteer-run survey in May, 2013, we found early on that Sunday service was a priority issue for riders,” Meath said. Those results were echoed among riders surveyed by the city in November, 2013.

Now, campaign organizers celebrate the first real changes, Meath said. The proposed budget for Asheville includes funding for Sunday bus service. “We expect Council to approve on June 24 the fund allocations needed for Sunday bus service,” she said. Proposed service for Sunday is similar to services offered on holidays.

“We are also glad to see changes to the crosstown bus route, which is something else we heard from our survey and an issue that caused a lot of confusion for some riders,” Meath said. The changes will probably begin in January of next year, she added.

“It’s been amazing to watch those who depend on public transportation find their voices on this issue,” said Amy Cantrell, community organizer for Just Economics. “And we have been fortunate to have the support along the way of partner groups, including the Asheville Homeless Network, Beloved House, Just Folks, YES! and the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

Campaign workers are beginning to look at shelter locations and conditions. “The next step for us involves mapping,” Meath said. By looking at bus shelter locations, organizers will next consider whether shelters for bus stops are adequate and safe. “Evening service is yet another issue organizers will soon address,” Meath added.

“In our tourism-heavy economy, workers are often expected to work schedules that end later than buses will service riders,” she said. “Some routes end at 7 p.m., and riders surveyed have clearly voiced their need for bus service at least until 10 p.m. on many routes,” she said.

“We’ve been hearing riders say they need bus service to 10, 11 p.m., and even to midnight,” Cantrell said.

Organizers, their supporters and advocates will consider their successes and plans with a State of the Campaign address in August.

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