City officials get heated over public transit

City officials get heated over public transit

More than a year ago, a study performed on the Beaumont Municipal Transit system deemed the operation as ineffective and made recommendations for changes to the system – none of which were made by the Beaumont City Council.

Now, a year later, Beaumont Councilman Mike Getz, whose term started in May, requested a committee be created to go over the findings that were submitted and to find ways to save money in that particular department. The discussion of that particular item brought heated comments from two fellow council members.

Chris Boone, director of Beaumont’s community development department, went over the results of the study with officials. The Beaumont Municipal Transit system costs the city about $2 million annually.

“The findings showed that improvements in the transit system could be made,” Boone said. Some of the issues included routes that were too long, and some too short, infrequent stops, low evening ridership, one-way routes in areas that could use a bus running both directions, and inconsistent headway times ranging from 30 minutes to an hour for a round trip.

To remedy bus issues, the study found the transit system should redo areas of service for various routes, eliminate night service and add a route to the Social Security office on Delaware. The City Council did not follow through with any of the recommendations because they were either costly or caused inconvenience to citizens.

During the council meeting Tuesday, Sept. 20, Getz made his own recommendations of how to cut costs with the transit system, which drew remarks from council members Jamie Smith and Audwin Samuel and spurred the creation of a council sub-committee consisting of council members W.L. Pate, Getz, Smith and Samuel.

Getz said he was “concerned that none of the recommendations were implemented,” and requested a committee be created to study the matter further.“I wasn’t 100 percent for it,” Councilman Smith told The Examiner. “At first he wanted to pick citizens to be a part of the committee – that’s just adding another layer of government to make suggestions from a manual that has suggestions that have already been made.”

While the findings did list some measures that could be taken to better the transit system, Getz said he hoped a committee would consider all options, not just those listed in the study.

One possibility Getz proposed was doing away with nighttime fixed routes and using an on-demand sort of service, much like the paratransit portion of the transit system.

“They would call a day in advance and request services,” he said. Getz, after meeting with the municipal transit director Bill Munson, said that sort of service could be accommodated with the existing staff. “It’s time to think outside the box to make it more sufficient,” Getz said.

As discussions of the transit system and creation of a committee continued, Councilman Samuel heatedly told Getz, “It sounds like you have a recommendation. Let’s just say what’s on your mind. Make your recommendation. I don’t see the benefit of citizens reviewing actions that were recommended that haven’t been acted upon.”

“There are some studies that need to be done. They haven’t thought about all the recommendations,” Getz said, referring to the findings.

“I have the belief that any solution that you will recommend will be adverse to the community it serves,” Samuel fired back. “Since you have taken office, I’ve seen many conversations about cutting services to those who can least afford it.”

A day after the heated discussion, Getz told The Examiner, “When I’m looking at a transit system that is costing nearly $5 million to operate a year, and seeing that it services somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 individuals – we’re not getting a lot of bang for our buck. It’s not doing the job that it needs to do, certainly not doing it in an efficient manner. All I was suggesting was that we revisit it and see if there are ways to make it more efficient. Why anyone would oppose that is beyond me. It amazes me that it got that reaction.”

Regarding the words that were exchanged at the council meeting, Samuel said, “I just said what was on my mind at the time – that’s all it was to it. It doesn’t change things and I hope we can work together on these issues. I hope we don’t always have differing opinions.”

Though they butted heads during the council meeting, Getz said he feels Samuel is a councilman who is in tune with his constituents and has a lot of hope for what will come of the transit system sub-committee.

“I believe Audwin has the best interest of Beaumont at heart. He’s been around a long time; he has many years under his belt doing this,” said Getz. “His heart is in the right place. He is responsible for a ward that has a very different demographic and socioeconomic status than the majority of the citizens in my ward. There are more residents in his ward that utilize the public transit system than in my ward.”

Samuel said he is also hopeful that there will be some resolutions possible through the sub-committee.

“I think it’s prudent that we always look for ways to provide these services,” he said. “I go in with the attitude and with the objective of continuing to provide the services in a better manner, as well as at a cost we can better afford. I’m looking for ways of making it better, not ways of shutting it down or making services worse.”

Jennifer Trahan can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 222, or by e-mail at j [dot] trahan [at] theexaminer [dot] com.