Limited funding hinders Victoria Transit

Marina Riker By Marina Riker

Nov. 12, 2017 at 9:45 p.m.
Updated Nov. 12, 2017 at 9 p.m.

Omar Rachid, 57, prepares to get on the first Victoria Transit bus of the day at the Walmart Supercenter on Navarro Street.

Omar Rachid, 57, prepares to get on the first Victoria Transit bus of the day at the Walmart Supercenter on Navarro Street.   Olivia Vanni for The Victoria Advocate

Omar Rachid heard stories about Victoria's bus system from other riders, but he wanted to check it out for himself.

Rachid usually drives a pickup to and from work but is an avid user of public transit when traveling to other cities, he said. He decided to spend a day riding Victoria's buses to see how its system compared.

On a hot summer day, he arrived at a bus stop near Goodwin and Moody streets at 11:20 a.m. - 20 minutes late for a bus that left at 11, he said. He thought another one would come at the top of the next hour.

"But it never showed up," Rachid said.

The bus driver was on a lunch break and wouldn't resume the route until after 1 p.m., but there was no mention of the lapse in service, he said.

Rachid said that's just one thing Victoria's bus system could do to be more user-friendly.

From the lack of bus service Sundays to limited ways to buy passes, some transit riders say the system could be improved. But boosting bus routes and making services more convenient depends on money - a scarce resource for the transit system.

"There's a lot of things that we would love to do," said Lisa Cortinas, who oversees Victoria Transit. "But of course, funding is a bit of a problem."

In Victoria and throughout the nation, public transit provides people who lack physical or economic means with critical transportation to work, doctor's appointments and community resources. According to a survey conducted in Victoria, many people who rely on transportation have disabilities, are elderly or have low income.

The Golden Crescent Regional Planning Commission oversees the bus system, which serves several rural counties, including DeWitt, Calhoun and Jackson. In addition to bus routes throughout Victoria, the transit system also operates medical transportation and home pickups for people who can't get to bus stops.

Victoria Transit runs on about $2.7 million a year, almost $1.5 million of which comes from federal and state governments, according to the agency. The federal and state funding is often limited based on population and geographic area, which makes it tricky to get more money, Cortinas said.

"(The federal government) doesn't take into account performance or anything," Cortinas said. "So you could be running wonderfully, and we're still not going to get any additional money."

The city of Victoria pitches in just more than $200,000 a year, while the rest of the revenue comes from other sources such as grants, bus fares and other transportation contracts. Occasionally, there are other government grants, but those are extremely competitive, Cortinas said.

In 2016, Victoria Transit cut Sunday bus service in the city, reduced Saturday's hours and eliminated a route after losing grant money. At the time, planning commission officials blamed the loss on a $230,000 budget shortfall and the fact that they didn't have a full-time grants administrator to apply for more funding.

But without finding cash to make transit more rider-friendly, the bus system could have difficulty attracting more users - and the fares that come with them, Rachid said. For people who rely on transportation to get to work, limited routes are particularly frustrating, he said.

"I asked a driver, 'What if I need to get to work on Sundays?'" Rachid. said "He said, 'You're out of luck.'"

Bus service runs from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday but is limited to three routes during the evening hours. Saturdays, buses run from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Depending on the route, it can take more than an hour to get across town, Rachid said. That can make getting to early appointments or shifts difficult for some riders.

Limited transportation can cause big problems for people who rely on it to get to work. A study conducted for Victoria Transit found that 55 out of 456 people surveyed lost jobs because of transportation problems, some of which had to do with issues with Victoria Transit.

Transit officials recognize the system's limitations but look for ways to improve even with limited funding, said Joe Brannan, who runs the Golden Crescent Regional Planning Commission.

Since Rachid spent a day riding the bus, transit officials updated route guides to show a transfer station that was left out, Brannan said. They also ordered a new sign that notes the lunchtime gap in service on one of the routes in addition to updating information on Victoria Transit's website.

"We simply do not have the volume of ridership to allow us to recover costs of (new) print material until we have exhausted those on hand," Brannan said.

Another one of Rachid's critiques was that bus passes can be purchased by cash or check only at the transit office. But recently, the transit agency partnered with Victoria College to sell bus passes in the school's office, Brannan said.

"This is a one-year trial program to see how it works out," he said.

However, until the system gets more money to expand or boost information on routes, people who ride the bus - especially first-time users like Melissa Embry - can sometimes have trouble navigating the system.

On a day when Embry was dealing with car trouble, she decided to take a bus near her apartment on Airline Road to the north side of town. But once she got to the bus stop, she found there weren't route maps - and she accidentally got on the wrong bus.

Eventually, a bus driver pointed her to the right route - but only after first finishing the trip around the south side of town.

"I just hope they post bus routes," Embry said.



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