Prescott-area public transit proposal dies, effort loses federal money

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

PRESCOTT - Public transit apparently will not be coming to the Prescott/Prescott Valley anytime soon.

After a months-long attempt to attract a private firm to take on the responsibility for a fixed-route bus system, the Central Yavapai Metropolitan Planning Organization rejected the sole proposal Wednesday night.

And because no other plan is in the works, the local transportation-planning group now is ineligible to receive more federal transit grant money.

After years of studies and discussion about transit, CYMPO decided in December to go out for proposals to see if private firms might be interested in using available federal money - along with a match of private money - to provide a regional bus system.

On Wednesday, CYMPO board member Mike Flannery explained that the move to go to the private sector was "kind of a last effort in order to get transit here."

That last-ditch effort ended, however, when CYMPO voted unanimously not to pursue the proposal it had received from local firm Prescott Transit Authority.

Private sector attempt

With its Citibus system already on the streets of Prescott, the Prescott Transit Authority proposed adding several other routes that would have increased the coverage in Prescott and would have taken in Prescott Valley and Dewey-Humboldt as well. (Chino Valley already has a system of its own).

PTA's proposal stated: "PTA will provide Prescott with its current service but in an enhanced and extended version. PTA will provide Prescott Valley with its own intra-city route. PTA will serve the Dewey area with an efficient loop through their community integrated with a connector route to Prescott Valley."

The fares would have been $1-per-ride within Prescott and Prescott Valley, and $4 from Prescott to Prescott Valley, and from Prescott Valley to Dewey.

Prescott Transit Authority proposed using nearly $400,000 per year in federal grant money, as well as about $450,000 of its own money, to operate the pilot program. The proposed annual profit: $65,000.

John and Steve Silvernale of Prescott Transit Authority expressed shock Wednesday night that their proposal did not meet CYMPO's standards. "I was astounded; I couldn't believe we fell short," John Silvernale told the board after CYMPO Administrator Chris Bridges read a list of the concerns.

Silvernale added that the proposal "was going to cost our company to do this," but that the firm hoped to "get our foot in the door" for the future.

Of CYMPO's rejection, Silvernale said: "This was an abrupt slap in the face."

Official concerns

CYMPO members, on the other hand, maintained that they made a good-faith effort with the proposal, but that it did not meet the strict federal standards.

"I believe that not only the CYMPO board, but the cities, worked very hard in trying to get this done," said Mary Ann Suttles, the chair of the CYMPO board and a member of the Prescott City Council. "This was not set up for failure, folks."

After meeting in a closed-door executive session for more than a half-hour, the CYMPO board returned to public session, and Bridges immediately read a list of concerns with Prescott Transit Authority's proposal.

Among them: A reported lack of compliance with federal regulations on "para-transit" (services to the handicapped).

Bridges said confusion might have arisen because of differences in the federal regulations regarding handicap-accessible vehicles, and those for "para-transit" services.

CYMPO based its concerns on the feedback from its two transit experts - former Transit Development Coordinator Matt Carpenter and transit consultant Suzanne O'Neill. Both recommended against accepting Prescott Transit Authority's proposal.

After the meeting, Bridges noted, "None of the board members are transit professionals. We have to rely on the people who work in the profession."

Continued support

While CYMPO's decision did not appear to come as a surprise to the two-dozen or so transit supporters who attended the meeting, several advocates did express disappointment.

"We sort of knew what was coming down," said Fritzi Mevis of Prescott People Who Care and the Coalition for Compassion and Justice. But she urged the CYMPO board not to let transit become "dead in the water" because of the setback.

Mevis also voiced concerns about the future of the volunteer force that currently provides essential rides to the needy. Especially with rising gasoline prices, she said, "I'm slightly terrified that half of our volunteers are going to say 'we can't do it anymore,' " Mevis said.

Local transit advocate Lindsay Bell also urged CYMPO not to let the transit issue die.

Maintaining that the organization had set too high a bar in its requirement that a private firm must provide the local match money, Bell said, "At some point in time, the local governments have to step up to the plate with some level of local match."

Future prospects

This week's vote not only ends the current push for public transit, but it also relinquishes the federal transit money that CYMPO had built up.

Along with the motion to reject the Prescott Transit Authority's proposal, the CYMPO board also voted to turn over about $1 million of federal transit money to other transit systems in the state.

In addition, Bridges said the local organization currently is ineligible to receive more transit zmoney from the Federal Transit Authority.

In order to become eligible once again, Bridges said CYMPO likely would have to provide the Federal Transit Authority with a five-year plan for a transit system, as well as a reliable source for the match money.

In the past, CYMPO had been eligible to receive about $700,000 per year in federal transit money. Because of the inability to get a transit system up and running, the local organization has forfeited that money for the past several years.