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7:42 AM Sat, Oct. 20th

Open-house meetings gauge community's views on transit

PRESCOTT ­ If a public transit system were safe, inexpensive and offered easy access to shopping and jobs, teenagers likely would be among the first to get on board.

That was the opinion of three teens who met in a focus group as part of the ongoing Regional Transit Study.

For three days this week, the study consultants, Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates, conducted open-house meetings in the tri-city area. The final session took place Thursday at Prescott City Hall.

Along with the several dozen residents who turned out to study the maps and transit explanations that the consultants displayed in the council chambers, the meeting also attracted participants for a series of separate focus-group discussions.

David Sharfarz of Nelson\Nygaard explained that the purpose of the focus groups was to elicit feedback from various demographic groups. To ensure candor in the responses, he said, focus groups usually are not open to the public. "They're not really public meetings," Sharfarz said.

When the Daily Courier reminded Sharfarz that Central Yavapai Metropolitan Planning Organization meetings fall under The Arizona Open Meeting Law, a reporter attended one of the focus groups that took place in Prescott Thursday afternoon.

The teens, who met in a conference room at Prescott City Hall, responded to a number of questions from Sedona-based consultant Mary Schnack about what they would like to see in a public transit system. Foremost among the necessary features: safety, access to shopping and ease of use.

Sixteen-year-old Ben Kingston noted that he often rides his bike for 20 or 30 minutes to get to his job at a church camp. "On hot days, it gets really hard," he said, adding that a bus system would be especially helpful "if there was a way to take a bike on it."

Sabine Doerscling, 14, noted that a transit system also would be valuable to her for trips to the mall or to visit friends. "I'm a teenage girl, and I have my needs," she said. "I have to go shopping."

Her sister Friederike Doerscling, 16, said she would gravitate to a transit system even though she drives a vehicle, because of her concerns for the environment.

The local move toward transit is good, she added, because "maybe it will show that the town is starting to care about everyone, not just old people or golfers."

Because teens often must rely on their parents or siblings for rides, the participants said a transit system would afford them more independence.

To make the system easier to use, the teens suggested a fare-card system that they could pay for over the Internet. They also liked the idea of making the fares commensurate with the distance of the ride.

Other focus groups targeted demographics such as the elderly, the disabled and working and college-age people.

After the teen session, Prescott City Councilman Robert Luzius, who attended the meeting, said that ­ regardless of age ­ the various groups appear to have similar concerns.

Schnack said comments were fairly consistent among the various open-house locations as well. Consultants got a "very strong" indication from the senior citizen and disabled focus groups, as well as from social services, that "There is a need for this." At the same time, she said, some participants have maintained that transit should be a function of private enterprise, not the government.

Participants from all over the area appear to want a base with a fixed schedule, rather than exclusively "paratransit," which would involve a dial-a-ride system.

The Chino Valley meeting attracted about 10 participants, and the Prescott Valley open house attracted about 30, Schnack said, while 33 people signed in at the Prescott session.

The transit study, which is under the direction of the Central Yavapai Metropolitan Planning Organization, kicked off earlier this summer and should be complete by February 2007.

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