After a year of miscommunication, assumptions and confusion, members of the Oro Valley Town Council are confident they will sort out the town’s complex transit situation. In the meantime, the July 20 vote on the future of funding for the town-operated Coyote Run Transit System will be delayed until September.
Council members Lou Waters and Steve Solomon acknowledged they and other council members made a mistake in assuming all the necessary arrangements to transition operation of the transit system from the town to the Regional Transportation Authority were being made as directed over the last year.
“What we’re doing now should have been done before,” Waters said. “We assumed a lot of things were being settled and then we get to the moment and discover so much had not been answered.”
Waters and Solomon agreed the council are the ones to blame for not following up with staff and asking for regular updates. The two were clear that staff was not to blame.
Mayor Satish Hiremath said he doesn’t blame the general public for being angry over the council’s handling of the situation.
“It was handled poorly, and for that I take full responsibility,” he said.
Hiremath said while council members are left with unanswered questions and wondering how the issue got out of control, they still have to move forward with making responsible decisions that are in the best interest of the town.
With Waters and Solomon being appointed to a sub-committee to get answers to those outstanding questions, the mayor said he remains confident the town’s transit services will be turned over to the RTA as originally planned.
When the state announced 18 months ago that it would stop funding Coyote Run, the town began seeking alternative services. It was then decided that the town would prepare to separate itself from Coyote Run in the 2011-2012 fiscal year, and the RTA would take over transit services for the town’s 816 regular riders.
The staff was directed to help those riders find alternative transportation, and make the transition as seamless as possible.
However, the latter has not been the case. Only three informal meetings were held at select homeowners associations, while no public town hall meetings or informational sessions were scheduled, leading many riders to complain that their questions and concerns have gone unanswered.
The lack of communication, including no announcement about the RTA’s plan to provide alternative transportation for many of the riders, has residents questioning how prepared the town is to move forward with a transition agreement.
Waters said the goal at this point is to determine what problems still exist, and what options should be considered moving forward.
Waters and Solomon acknowledged they didn’t realize there were so many outstanding issues until June 1, when some residents begged the council to keep Coyote Run. After hearing the emotional pleas, the council voted 6-1 to continue funding the town’s transit service for at least one more year.
The council then rethought the decision, voting on June 18 to reconsider the measure at a later date. That date was scheduled for July 20 until council members realized that the issue is more complex than originally thought, and how much more work must be done before they can cast an official vote.
The issue will still be discussed during the July 20 meeting, but no vote is expected until September.
The RTA has been known primarily for road-improvement projects, but has also stepped in as a player in transit services, with $534 million budgeted through 2025.
“It is now going to take some time to craft an (intergovernmental agreement) that we can all sign,” said Hiremath. “The agreement has always been that the RTA will take over the services. I feel comfortable saying everything will be transferred over by the first or second meeting in September.”
Hiremath’s confidence centers on a proposal being discussed between Solomon, Waters and RTA officials. However, details about the proposal are not being released, and RTA officials will only confirm that they are working with the town.
“We are looking at some options to help with the situation,” said Carlos Deleon, RTA director of transit services. “We are still evaluating all viable options at this time. We are conducting data analysis right now.”
While Hiremath, who serves on the RTA board, and council members work to quickly sort out what was supposed to be happening over the last year, it’s the Coyote Run riders who say they have been left in the dark for way too long.
Terry Thompson, who pays the Town of Oro Valley $300 a month to have Coyote Run transport his 36-year-old daughter Leigh to Tucson, said a lack of information has caused him and his wife a lot of stress in worrying about what the future holds.
Thompson explained that his adult daughter has the mental capacity of a 2-year-old, and it is vital that they have a reliable transportation system to get her to and from a day camp program in Tucson.
Thompson said after Waters and Solomon attended an informal meeting at his home on July 5, he is optimistic they understand what’s at stake, and will get some answers.
Nanette Didio said for her it’s not a fear of the unknown. With an open mind, the mother of 23-year-old Cameron Didio used services offered by the RTA. Cameron, who is mentally retarded, requires similar services as the Thompsons.
“The quality of services will be compromised with the RTA,” Didio said. “The care, courtesy and respect that our current (Coyote Run) drivers have will go away. Coyote Run drivers are here when they say they will be here. They bring (Cameron) home when they say they will.”
After using the RTA’s Handi-car services for two weeks, Didio said she was not impressed. She became so uncomfortable with the service that one day she followed the vehicle to ensure her son made it to his day programs.
Deleon said the RTA is committed to looking into concerns of quality service. The RTA requires all contractors to meet certain standards, and will address any and all customer concerns, he said.
• July 20 meeting time for discussions
• Vote delayed to September