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7:32 AM Wed, Nov. 21st

Council gets first look at Regional Transit Study

PRESCOTT - With four public-transit alternatives to choose from, the Prescott City Council appeared to be getting a recommendation this week to start small and grow through the years.

That was one of the points that consultant David Sharfarz of the Nelson/Nygaard firm made to the Prescott City Council this week during a presentation on the recently completed Regional Transit Needs Study.

The council heard the report during a Tuesday workshop, which was to be the council's first public discussion of the study. But with just one hour before the start of the 3 p.m. voting session, the

2 p.m. workshop allowed for little council discussion on preferences.

Sharfarz spent much of the hour outlining the four alternatives that the study recommended, which ranged from enhancement of the current transit voucher program that provides low-cost, subsidized taxi rides to needy people, to an 11-bus system that would establish six fixed routes throughout the tri-city area.

At the close of the workshop, the council agreed to place transit on a future meeting agenda - probably in late July - to choose an alternative and discuss how to pay for it.

Throughout his presentation, Sharfarz stressed that transit experiences in other communities have shown that it is easier to start small and add services through the years, rather than starting big and later having to cut services.

"If there is a lesson to be learned, it is whatever you put out there has to be sustainable," Sharfarz said. "The lesson is to start smaller, if you feel that is more comfortable for you, and then grow from there."

Mayor Rowle Simmons - although he noted that he was still formulating his opinion about the four alternatives on Wednesday - said he agrees with

Sharfarz's advice.

"My first-blush feel would be that we ease into it," Simmons said. But he added, "I am very much intent that we not put this (study) back on the shelf, like prior ones have been."

The study's first two alternatives both involve maintaining and enhancing the transit voucher system, which the local governments currently pay for mostly through their shares of state lottery money.

Sharfarz maintained that by making some changes in the administration of the voucher program, the local communities could increase capacity.

Even so, when explaining the first option which would involve virtually no new money, Sharfarz said, "It is not a solution; it is a stop-gap measure."

While the second option would garner some federal transit grant money, neither of the first two options would require significantly more financial contributions from the local governments.

The third and fourth alternatives, on the other hand, would provide a level of service that is more consistent with what the community has indicated it wants, but also would come with more local financial responsibility.

The third alternative, which involves five buses and three fixed routes, would begin in 2009 with local contributions of less than $100,000, but would grow to a local responsibility of about $200,000 in 2010, and $600,000 by 2025, according to Sharfarz's information.

Based on a population breakdown, the City of Prescott's share would remain less than $100,000 for the first five years or so, and ultimately would grow to about $200,000 by 2025.

The fourth alternative, which involves an 11-bus fleet and six fixed routes, would begin with a local responsibility of about $500,000 and would grow to a local cost of more than $1.75 million.

The city's share would remain in the $250,000-per-year range for much of the first six or seven years, but ultimately would grow to more than $500,000 by 2025.

The Central Yavapai Metropolitan Planning Organization, which consists of representatives from local governments, including Prescott, oversaw the Regional Transit Needs Study.