02 Mar Push continues for transit in the Sun Cities
Getting public transit services in the Sun Cities continues to be an uphill battle.
Bonnie Boyce-Wilson and Sharon Hettick, Northwest Valley Connect board members, don’t want to give up the fight. They continue to push for more transit options for senior residents from Valley Metro and Maricopa County.
Valley Metro officials spent $65,000 on a transit survey for the Northwest Valley and results will be presented and discussed during a public meeting 10 a.m. Tuesday, March 17 in the social hall at R.H. Johnson Recreation Center, 19803 R.H. Johnson Blvd., Sun City West.
“We have been working for five years to get funding for transit in the West Valley, but so far we’ve gotten nothing,” Ms. Boyce-Wilson said.
While she and Ms. Hettick would like to see more transit in the West Valley as a whole, their primary focus is on Sun City and Sun City West. Both lie in unincorporated areas of Maricopa County and therefore, do not have their own municipal governments.
Ms. Boyce-Wilson said cities can create circulator transit programs if they can get residents to approve a tax to fund it. Peoria created the POGO program, continues to operate Dial-A-Ride and this year launched a new program called Autonomous Shuttle.
Surprise, on the other hand, is not doing as well as residents refuse to approve a transit tax.
“The people there want it (transit), they just don’t seem to want to pay for it,” Ms. Hettick said.
As unincorporated communities, Sun City and Sun City West have no local governments with authority to tax their residents.
Public transportation in the Valley is funded, at least in part, by a half-cent sales tax — voter approved as Proposition 400 — that is due to be extended soon. But Ms. Boyce-Wilson said those funds go into a single pot and are administered by Maricopa Association of Governments.
The Sun Cities are represented at MAG by Clint Hickman, District 4 county supervisor.
“Each West Valley mayor can push for more transit in the West Valley,” Scott Isham, Mr. Hickman’s chief of staff stated in an email. “Cities and towns across the Valley have chosen to impose special taxes for transit services.”
He said residents in the Sun Cities could incorporate, vote in a mayor and also tax themselves more to add transit. They could also lobby the state Legislature to allow them to create a special transit taxing district.
“Ultimately, it is the voters and taxpayers in the Sun Cities who will have to fund the transit services they desire,” Mr. Isham stated.
It does come down to money, and the county has none for transit. While Maricopa County has jurisdiction in the unincorporated areas, it does not receive any tax revenues earmarked for transit services other than Dial-A-Ride, according to Mr. Isham. The largest source of transportation funding the county receives is from the Highway User Revenue Fund and is restricted to roadways and cannot be used for transit capital or operational costs, he added.
The County receives three funding sources to provide paratransit transportation services in unincorporated areas of the county, according to Mr. Isham. Arizona lottery funds — $818,000 — are the only funding source the state provides for transportation services, he explained.
“The funds are used in full, and the county has to provide $1.2 million of supplemental funding to serve people with disabilities who are ADA certified for paratransit,” Mr. Isham stated. “The Legislature hasn’t increased the gas tax in 29 years to pay for roadways so there will most likely not be any new state funds for transit.”
A countywide transit tax is another option, but Mr. Isham believes that is unlikely to receive approval, either from the Legislature or from county voters.
“Even if the Legislature gave us authority to refer it to the ballot, it is unlikely taxpayers in cities and towns with a current transit tax would support an additional tax for services they won’t receive,” Mr. Isham stated.
Ms. Boyce-Wilson said her group is working with state legislators to help find transit options. One avenue being explored is changing the county supervisors’ code to allow them to plan for transit in unincorporated areas. That would require hiring a transit planner, similar to what most municipalities have on staff.
There were 26 projects planned in the West Valley to enhance public transit, but those were all canceled when the 2008 economic downturn began, according to Ms. Hettick.
“MAG says they are 40% behind on the projects already on the books,” she said.
Ms. Hettick believes part of the problem of getting West Valley projects, especially in the Sun Cities, is that few people understand the difficulties of elderly residents in getting around in their own communities.
“Some of them are not driving anymore,” she said. “Some depend on family or friends, but when that is not available, they are stuck at home.”
Ms. Boyce-Wilson said one thing that could help Northwest Valley residents is extending the Valley Metro bus route that ends at Arrowhead Towne Center, 7700 W. Arrowhead Towne Center, Glendale, to or near Loop 303.
“That would be huge,” she said.
But still more needs to be done, she added.