Last August, 55 leaders from diverse industries and backgrounds began a journey as a part of Leadership Greenville’s Class 44, one of the Greenville Chamber’s flagship programs.
Leadership Greenville is a program designed to impact leaders through learning about the community in which they live and understanding its needs. It is intended to challenge participants to respond to those needs and act upon their newfound knowledge.
Today our class graduates after a nine-month journey that opened our eyes to the challenges facing our community. One critical issue emerged throughout our class days. Our class is committed to shining a light on it and collaborating with stakeholders to find solutions.
That issue is access to transportation.
While there has been incredible growth in Greenville over the last decade, those below the poverty line have not benefited from this growth. We saw first-hand how the lack of access to reliable, 24/7 public transportation is a critical factor contributing to the widening income gaps in our community.
According to the “Equality-of-Opportunity-Project.org,” five place-based factors that keep people stuck in poverty are: Residential segregation, income inequality, local school quality, family structure and social capital. Without reliable transportation, one’s ability to surmount these barriers is next to impossible.
“One of the stories we tell ourselves in the narrative of the United States is about social and physical mobility,” says Marc Brenman, co-author of the book The Right to Transportation: Moving to Equity. “You can’t have either of those kinds of mobility without an equitable transportation system.”
Throughout the year, our class heard from many groups working on real-time, practical solutions for each of the five place-based factors. But access to transportation is not being adequately addressed.
Overcoming the obstacles to economic mobility must include a transit system that affords access to those currently underserved.
In Greenville, half of Greenlink bus riders fall into the lowest 20 percent of household income (less than $15,000/year), and half of those riders are traveling for work. According to a Greenlink report, on average our peer cities are operating with a $10-12 million annual budget.
Greenlink is forced to operate with about half that amount at $5.4 million. Underfunding the system means Greenlink is not able to serve the many riders who need their service, thereby compounding the problem.
But the issue before us is much bigger than Greenlink. It is about a systemic change to how we approach transportation in our community and working collaboratively to find creative solutions.
For example, communities of similar size are innovating solutions to address the challenge of transit. In Altamonte Springs, Florida a pilot project with Uber has gained traction.
According to a recent report, the system has been so successful that four other area cities have joined with Altamonte Springs to create a five-city trial. The five-city project subsidizes the Uber fare so riders have a flat fee anywhere within the defined transit zone any hour of the day.
This makes a transit solution available to all people, regardless of access to a defined route system, and it is cheaper to maintain than more complex, infrastructure-based systems. Altamonte Springs City Manager, Frank Martz, said, “A mile of road costs tens of millions of dollars. You can operate this for decades on $10 million.”
Investing and innovating in transit in the coming years will be a benefit to all of us, regardless of the barriers we face to economic mobility. A recent transit article cites a study by researchers Daniel Chatman and Robert Noland, where Chatman notes, “On average, across all the metro areas in the study, expanding transit service produced an economic benefit … of roughly $45 million a year.”
Greenville has been a leader in city innovation. We must add transit to the list of innovations. Chatman continues, “If showing that system expansion leads to more riders and less congestion is good, and showing that it reduces pollution and improves public safety is great, then showing in big numbers how much economic growth will occur should be gold.”
Leadership Greenville Class 44 loves our hometown. Our commitment to this community is that we will engage with other leaders, with people impacted by a lack of access to transportation, and with city and county officials. We will add our voices and our sweat to this challenge.
We are committed to translating our learning from this past year into action. Access to transportation is a clear obstacle, a challenge which must be overcome. Is Class 44 up for that challenge? Yes, we accept!
If you want to accept this challenge too or want to engage with us on this issue email us at: email@example.com and please fill out the new transit survey at greenvillechamber.org
Bill Simmons and Cary Weekes are members of Leadership Greenville Class 44. They penned this column on behalf of all members of their Leadership Greenville class.
Read or Share this story: https://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/2018/05/17/opinion-greenville-leaders-must-find-solutions-transportation-woes/610795002/