During a public hearing Dec. 14, Oro Valley Assistant Town Manager Kevin Burke discussed the future of the town’s much-debated Coyote Run Transit System.
Previous council negotiations which looked to modify, or eliminate funding for Coyote Run have proven to be a growing concern for Oro Valley residents, particularly for seniors and disabled residents who rely on the system for transportation.
For several months, the Town of Oro Valley has been searching for a medium that will reduce transit expenses without sacrificing viable transportation options for residents. With annual spending that exceeds $300,000, the town has looked to the Regional Transportation Authority as a potential answer.
This effort has been met with some public opposition, as residents fear they might lose the quality of service they currently receive with Coyote Run. However, with the persistence of residents like Terry Thompson, spokesman of the group, Friends of Coyote Run, the Town and its residents may have reached a mutual solution.
“I’m going to give kudos to the town, which is really out of character because I’ve spent the last six months fighting them tooth and nail,” said Thompson. “Because you and I and others have spoken up, we’re still in the game with this. A lot of concessions have been made. We have a product. Our demands going in were basic — no dropping the level of service, no dropping the quality of service.”
In a solution that will also cut down transportation costs, the town has integrated its three major transit systems into one as a subcontractor for the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA).
Going forward, Coyote Run, Sun Shuttle, and Handi-Car will be streamlined into a single transit system called Sun Shuttle Dial-A-Ride.
“What we’re looking at is a partnership between the town and the RTA to provide this integrated service under contract with the RTA through June 2013,” said Burke.
Though exact numbers were not available, Oro Valley Transit Manager Aimee Ramsey said she expects significant reductions in transit costs as the result of the integration and partnership with the RTA.
“Handi-Car service is only for those citizens that have been certified under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act),” said Ramsey. “The RTA funds that. We are now going to be providing that service. We are also going to become more efficient because we are combining that with our senior services. For those ADA trips, the RTA will pick up the cost.”
Thompson and his group will be helping seniors who may qualify become ADA certified, which would result in lower fares and extended service hours for them.
During open discussion, many residents expressed concern about potential differences with the transition.
“There is no change,” said Oro Valley Councilman Steve Solomon. “The same bus will pick you up, and they will take you to the exact same places you are going today. The town is not giving up on transportation. We still own it. We are partnering with the RTA, eliminating duplication of services.”
Also remaining the same will be the bus drivers and phone number that residents currently call to schedule pickups.
Dial-A-Ride will offer expanded service hours during the week, and include a weekend service for riders who qualify under the ADA. Furthermore, riders can now schedule a pickup one day in advance as opposed to the previous two days required by Coyote Run.
Carlos de Leon, Director of Transit Services for the RTA, addressed questions regarding how the RTA would balance its transit spending in comparison to other expenses like road improvement.
“The RTA board is committed to delivering what was promised and keeping those items going as they were voted on,” said de Leon. It’s about $100 million dollars over 20 years that was set aside specifically for seniors and persons with disabilities. If there is a substantial change in the plan, it has to go back to voters for approval.”
Councilman Lou Waters closed the meeting with some words that aimed to calm what seemed to still be an uneasy crowd of Oro Valley residents. “Woodrow Wilson said, ‘If you want to make enemies, try to change something’. What we’ve been saying over and over tonight in regards to Coyote Run, is nothing has changed.”
The new intergovernmental agreement will go before the Oro Valley Council on Jan. 18, and be made available one week in advance for public access.