Maintaining the momentum of transport reform

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John Railey Guest Columnist

Winston-Salem and Forsyth County are moving forward with transit challenges. The trick is knowing how to maintain this progress.

A concrete example is a recent pilot program that three organizations carried out with funding of approximately $30,000 from the Winston-Salem Foundation Grants Initiative for Equitable Solutions to Public Transportation Issues. From last April to early September, the program helped about 50 people with efficient carpools to work, many of them paying around $21 a week or less, organizers said. With the money saved from the program, one of the clients bought a car through a local nonprofit that helps with low-interest loans, Project CARes.

“For people to plan for their future, these programs could last three to five years, not just a few months,” said Craig Richardson, director of the Center for the Study of Economics at Winston State University. – Salem. Mobility (CSEM), which studies transport issues. “It would make the transition up the economic ladder much easier for many hard-working people.”

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At a cost of around $600 per person, the pilot program put its roughly 50 participants on a path to upward economic mobility, so the subsidy could more than pay off. Local leaders would do well to support the Winston-Salem Foundation and other organizations in extending these successful pilots, instead of constantly letting pilots expire and rushing to other short-lived pilots.

The Goler Community Development Corp. received the grant and ran the program, in partnership with the local Sheriff’s Office Community Court Services and Forsyth County Support Systems, a new company that provided van service.

Garrett Bolden, chief financial officer of the Goler CDC, said the pilot program was very popular. “It was door-to-door transportation for all three shifts, 24/7.”

The program ended because its grant ran out. Charlie Gardner, the foundation’s program officer in charge of the transportation initiative, said his organization was evaluating how best to advance its transportation work through a series of meetings with grant recipients. “Our hypothesis is that by bringing grantees together to learn and collaborate, something will become possible that would not be possible if we were simply working in silos. We try to understand together how to move the work forward and look at the problems on a larger scale. One of the challenges is engaging other local Winston-Salem stakeholders to participate, both public and private, as it will likely require a mix. »

At the heart of the problem is the city’s inefficient public bus system, the Winston-Salem Transportation Authority, WSTA. Buses only run every hour instead of every 30 minutes. Among CSEM’s extensive research into the problem is a finding that commuters who use the bus system to get to work spend an average of 12 hours a week commuting. That amounts to a tax on time, Richardson said, subtracting the hours runners might spend getting to work or helping their children with homework.

CSEM presented options for transportation reform to the public, including the small town of Wilson, which has a ride-sharing service that has replaced its bus system and is popular with customers. Richardson asked why Winston-Salem couldn’t start a similar program on a hybrid basis.

The City of Winston-Salem has taken no such action. The city commissioned HDR, an Omaha-based company, to conduct a study of WSTA’s services. HDR will present some of its preliminary findings to the city council’s public works committee at 6 p.m. on October 11.

At the same time, the pilot program set up by Goler and its partners presents a solid model for improving public transport. They showed what a partnership between a non-profit organization, a government entity and a company can accomplish.

The program is designed to run at eight-week intervals. Riders received their first two weeks of service free, then paid an 85% reduced fee. “Most people are still working,” said the cap. Kichas Adams of Community Court Services. “One bought a car. Others have found a colleague to help them get to work.

We cannot afford to lose the momentum for reform that is before us. We should rely on these models.






Railey


John Railey ([email protected]) is the writer-in-residence at the Center for the Study of Economic Mobility; www.wssu.edu/csem.

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