Bonner tour promotes public transit
Published 3:32 am Monday, February 7, 2005
By By Tim Cottrell
U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner's Rural Bus Tour made a stop in Atmore Thursday Afternoon to an excited crowd of business and civic leaders. While Bonner himself had been called to business and was unable to attend, his aides were able to put together quite a program.
Bonner, along with several members of County Commissions, professors at several universities, and other staff members from around the Gulf Coast were scheduled to arrive in Atmore at 3 p.m. Thursday. Bonner's plane, however, was delayed and he was unable to attend.
Congressman Bonner's bus tour was promoting a conference called the Regional Public Transit Summit scheduled for February 25, at the Arthur R. Outlaw Convention Center in Mobile.
Atmore Mayor Howard Shell outlined the purpose of the visit to the city.
"The purpose of this visit is to promote rural public transit," Shell said while introducing the speakers.
The speaker at the event, Dr. Phillip Norris of the University of South Alabama's Baldwin County Branch, outlined some of the goals of the conference.
"We want to get all the actors in this involved," said Norris. "We need to start a dialogue between all the cities in this region because we need to start thinking as a region. There are different needs in each city, but getting together and discussing them is a way to start meeting them."
According to information from Bonner staffers states that they wish to provide a safe, efficient, public system of transit for this region in order to avoid problems currently found in and around Birmingham and Atlanta. The paperwork also points to Tampa and Washington, D.C. as effective models of cities and regions who have been proactive in establishing an effective system of transit.
Stan Virden, of the Baldwin County Commission, also pointed out several economic benefits of providing a transit system.
"When you put one dollar into transit, studies have shown you get six back," Virden said. "There are numerous ways this happens. Number one, you get people off welfare and into the workforce who weren't able to work because they had no transportation, so that's one benefit.
"A second benefit is that you have people who only use their cars for transit giving them up, and using a transit system. This is important because in this area the average cost of owning a car each year is about $9,000. Using transit would cost the average person about $2,000. So that's a $7,000 difference in money spent on transportation, which is a huge difference in a low-income household. Thirdly, and this is most important, the amount of money people spend on their cars – upkeep, gas, etc. – instead gets spent at businesses. Studies have shown that about one-half of the return on transit is spent in local businesses."
The group has a long-range vision for what they'd like to see happen to Southwest Alabama.
"We think Atmore could make a great bedroom city for Mobile," Norris said. "That might sound crazy, but we plan on having an efficient transit system so that if someone lives in Brewton and gets a job in Mobile, we can get them there everyday in a safe, fast, and efficient manner."
Local businessman and owner of the Community Cup, Joel Lambert, offered his facility for the speech. "The Community Cup is a place for the community to meet so it's fitting for this to be the place to hold a community meeting," Lambert said.
The Community Cup was volunteered to host U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner's speech by Joel's wife Celia Lambert. "Everything went well and it was a good crowd and we were just happy for them to be here," Celia said. "We were delighted to have them; it was an honor."
All these speakers will join Bonner at the upcoming summit on Feb. 25; U.S. Rep. Artur Davis; Dr. Thomas Sanchez of Virginia Tech's Department of Urban Affairs and Planning; Tom Dugan, Executive Director of the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority; William W. Millar, President of the American Public Transit Authority; and State Sen. Bradley Byrne.
(Managing editor Lee Weyhrich contributed to this article.)