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Mobility Week Urges Locals To Take The Bus

Hana Frenette/Escambia County

Floridians are being urged to take the bus – or make other multimodal transportation choices, during the 2nd annual “Mobility Week” held by the state Department of Transportation this week. One such event was Wednesday in Pensacola.

Area officials and just plain folks climbed aboard a bus at Escambia County Area Transit’s Rosa Parks Terminal, for the short ride to City Hall. Among them, Escambia County Commission Chair Lumon May.

“Many times when people talk about mass transportation and the bus system, many politicians like to look at the opportunity of ‘how do we reduce it?’” said May. “I think we ought to be looking at opportunities of how do we make it more efficient and how do we increase it?”

A step in that direction, May contends, is removing the stigma that public transportation is just for the disadvantaged and the poor – while reminding everyone it’s a part of a growing, progressive city.

“It reduces the carbon footprint in our neighborhoods; it makes for a more healthy community,” May said. “It provides for less [traffic] on our highways, less on our roads; which in turn saves taxpayers dollars. I think we can do more – partnership with the city, county and the state and citizens to improve it.”

“Transportation is vital in what we do and how we move; I think public transportation is incredibly important,” said Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson, who was among those taking the bus to his workplace.

“We had the chance to see a gentleman who was disabled; others who probably wouldn’t have had another opportunity to be mobile if they had not had the bus,” said Robinson. “We saw children with a mom get on, on MLK [Boulevard]. So we saw several people who came downtown.”

Floridians are being challenged this week with the concept of “Mix it Up” – making new transportation choices and pledging to try public transit, biking, walking, carpooling or teleworking. The goal is to make a positive impact on the transportation system, by reducing the number of trips made driving alone.

“Transit is vital for individuals to be able to participate fully in their community,” said Carolyn Grawi, executive director of the Center for Independent Living Disability Resource Center — and a rider of public transit. 

Credit Hana Frenette/Escambia County
Carolyn Grawi, the executive director of the Center for Independent Living Disability Resource Center, (center) says public transit allows people with disabilities to get to be a part of their community.

“It allows people to do everything else that everybody else gets to do,” Grawi said. “It allows people to go from home to work; from work to play, from pay to recreation, to social with their families [and] friends; holidays, religious activities, et cetera.”

After the event, Commission Chair Lumon May doubled down on his call to find ways to increase public transport, rather than listen to those who want to reduce or even abolish services.

“And if that means reducing the size of buses on routes that don’t necessarily fill the bus up, I think we should do that,” May said. “I think we should increase the rates; I think that we have to do a better job at marketing. It’s a tool that should be used in a progressive manner to help build a city. More walkability; reduce the carbon footprint, reduce traffic, [and] reduce the wear and tear on our highways.”

Moving forward, May believes there will be new opportunities, but they must be ready to hit the ground running with them, and he reminds everyone that, if you want resources, you have to pay for them --  in this case through the gas tax.

“More people moving downtown, more of the millennials; I think we’ve got to change with the times,” said May. “How do you change to the needs of the community now? You’ve seen a lot of people that are biking, that are walking, and that will utilize the bus to get from here. So do we need more bike racks on the bus? Smaller buses? I think we need to look at progressive cities and how they’re utilizing their mass transit.” 

Credit Hana Frenette/Escambia County
Mayor Grover Robinson and Commissioner Lumon May participate in the Mobility Week ECAT ride along.

Part of the changes within ECAT are expected to involve beefing up the routes in the northern part of Escambia County to serve the Century area. Interim Director Tonya Ellis says that study is underway.

“We have some opportunities coming up, now that we have some additional funding that we’re looking at applying for that will assist us in that endeavor,” Ellis said. “I do have some service in Century; we do know there are some needs in some of the other areas that may not necessarily need a full bus route but may need some additional connecting services.”

That funding could come from the state, involving monies set aside for rural service.

“We have been meeting with other agencies that work with rural areas; so we’re looking at hopefully partnering with them,” said Ellis. “We’ve also been actually having some conversations with Pensacola State College, looking at ways that we can partner with them to provide some additional service in that area as well.”

Mobility Week began in Central Florida in 2016, and its success there inspired the expansion of the initiative statewide last year. More information is available at www.MobilityWeekFL.com.