Flex bus service a small step forward

Movement is a hallmark of life. So when two of Cobb County’s transit routes were cut in 2011, it was little surprise that families were upended.

One gentleman now walks for an hour to get to the nearest bus stop, so the bus can take him another 90 minutes to work. One way.

Another woman with acute asthma walks at least four miles to get medical treatment.

A young mother must now walk at least one mile, with children in tow, to buy groceries at the nearest mini-mart.

What’s disturbing is that some persons who moved to Cobb are stranded because they believed that transit in Cobb was stable. The dim reality is that persons dependent on transit represent a class of persons that some in Cobb deem unworthy of sympathy, or at least a government handout, for a service largely recognized for not paying for itself.

I have yet to see a highway, library or park that pays for itself, yet there is a large perception that transit should.

Our transit riders are not a homogeneous cohort. We have college students who must get to class; seniors who want to run errands with some independence, and commuters — even some professionals — who want to save money on gas or parking, or at least eliminate the stress of driving.

But when transit is cut, it hurts our most vulnerable the most.

The two routes cut in South Cobb traveled through some of the county’s most challenged areas, with blighted corridors, lower employment and less stable housing. While the routes were cut for having low ridership, these particular routes served people with some of the greatest need.

The impact of losing transit in some communities warrants a different analysis for considering the strength of transit for the community and for Cobb. You could hypothesize that loss of transit will result in even higher unemployment, more blight and poorer access to food, education and medical services. Such outcomes could put greater burdens on code enforcement, public safety and schools.

Cobb leadership is now considering adding flexible transit routes to help reduce some of the unmet needs of the two lost routes. A flexible bus transit route travels a fixed route with the flexibility to pick up riders at non-fixed locations on demand.

The ability to provide residents with even a loose semblance of the routes once in place is encouraging. My observation is that Cobb’s transportation division wants to get this right and ensure the new route is sustainable.

Flexible bus service in Cobb can set a standard in how to justify and deliver transit, both quantitatively and qualitatively, and not just in its implementation, but in its formation. We need residents to get involved. Mobilizing residents may be the boost needed to jump-start communities that draw life from transit.

Lisa Cupid is a Cobb County Commissioner representing District 4 in Southwest Cobb.