By LaVonna Connelly
One day they were productive independent community members. The next day they were captives inside invisible prisons.
So what happened?
Public transit cuts.
In a way, it was a no-brainer. Route 386, commonly referred to as the “Escondido bus,” had chronically low ridership. The lack of riders on the Route 386 bus earned it the dishonor of being one of the only North County Transit District (NCTD) routes not to qualify for the federal transit “fair box” subsidy monies. Cutting the least cost-effective routes, like the Escondido bus, was the logical thing for NCTD to do.
However, the Escondido bus was not the only bus that got cut. The Ramona FAST bus and the LIFT bus were also cut as part of a million-dollar savings package.
The FAST bus was a mini-bus that offered door-to-door service, by appointment, within the Ramona town area. The LIFT bus serviced the physically disabled whose wheelchairs required a lift.
Seniors and disabled could qualify for a reduced fee ride. The FAST bus allowed approximately 75 to 100 people a day to shop, work and take care of business in Ramona.
The lives of many of Ramona’s physically disabled community members were devastated by the elimination of the FAST and LIFT buses. While the cuts to the Escondido bus may have been justified, they believed that elimination of the FAST and LIFT buses was premature.
In a town like Ramona, many agree that residents should be able to move about freely and be productive citizens. Accessibility to transit makes sense.
If Ramona wants access to public transit, it will have to let its voice be heard. A representative from NCTD said that there was no real opposition to the transit cuts from Ramona. A few people attended the hearings, but few spoke.
As an unincorporated community, the onus falls on citizens to make things happen. In this case, the disabled and elderly who were affected did not have transportation to the faraway hearings and many were too medically fragile to plan for and be effective self-advocates.
Oh but it’s not over yet. San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) has received a grant to assess “rural community social service and transit” need. Planning for these community assessments is expected to begin this spring. Ramona would benefit from more and stronger relationships on the SANDAG Transportation Committee.
Locally, a small group of concerned citizens has formed the “Public Transit Committee.”
Operating on the sentiment that Ramona is the kind of place where neighbors care about neighbors, this group is interested in assessing unmet community transit need and facilitating community-driven solutions. The group meets on the third Thursday of the month at the Ramona Senior Center. They have been raising awareness on this issue through presentations to community leaders and planners who have been invited to be part of the solution.
The Public Transit Committee acknowledges that Ramona’s public transit system is broken. Its focus, however, is to begin by addressing the lack of transit within the community. The broader issue of better public transit leaving Ramona is something to be taken up at a later time.
The Public Transit Committee, now under the local nonprofit leadership of the Ramona Senior Center, would like to empower the community to find a solution to this local issue. Those who are in agreement with this effort can express their consensus by doing three things.
First, start talking about the issue. Create a buzz about it. If the community is engaged and pushing for a solution, elected officials, planners and potential funders will take notice.
Secondly, if you think the disabled and elderly should have access to transportation, tell your elected officials. Call Supervisor Dianne Jacob, Assemblyman Joel Anderson, Senator Dennis Hollingsworth, Congressman Duncan Hunter and the various community leaders/planners in Ramona.
Thirdly, support the Public Transit Survey effort. Now is the time for those who have been stranded in their home or community to speak out. Let’s assure that every elderly and/or disabled community member with unmet transit need takes the survey. Others are also welcome to give input.
Keep your eye out for the survey, due out soon, in the Ramona Sentinel. It will also be offered online and hard copies will be placed in offices, businesses and public places.
The Public Transportation Committee’s belief is that “Together, and only together, the community of Ramona can make sure that its most vulnerable community members are offered services that allow them to be productive citizens.
LaVonna Connelly is a member of the Public Transit Committee.