Transportation touches everything in our modern lives. Lack of transportation impacts jobs, housing, families, education, day care, health access, food access, social opportunities, household economics, community engagement and safety. Lack of access to transportation lengthens and/or limits the pathways out of poverty.

According to the Pew Charitable trusts, households in poverty devote more of their household budget to transportation. The cost of a car, fuel, insurance, maintenance and repair is out of reach for many families. Lack of transportation alternatives lead to social isolation and contribute to community inequity and the inability to access services (health care, grocery stores, etc.). Lack of access to reliable transportation limits access to jobs that can lift individuals and families out of the daily struggles of poverty.

Many of the residents of east Gainesville are transportation disadvantaged and rely on the Regional Transit System to provide transportation to jobs, medical appointments, education and shopping. Improved access to routes and improved bus stops are something that should be fully explored. The Gainesville For All transportation team understands that transportation expansion and improvements to assist residents will incur costs and urges consideration of a variety of methods to fund the suggested improvements.

The team believes targeted free RTS bus passes to expanded populations could provide some needed relief for community members. Currently there is limited availability of free passes and no free fare routes. The University of Florida and Santa FeCollege  students and staff ride for “free” as part of their student fees, but all other riders pay fares. Certain populations, such as newly employed individuals or high school students — could be targeted for free passes.

Passes could also be targeted to residents of certain zip codes. For example, according to the UF Health Community dashboard data, the 32641 zip code in east Gainesville has 851 households (17 percent) with no vehicle, compared to an overall county rate of about 8 percent. A recent Central Florida Community Action Agency survey in Alachua County found that 35 percent of 644 survey respondents cited “no fund for gas or bus fare” as their main transportation barrier.

Many of the households in 32641 are headed by single-family parents who work. Having fare-free passes available for their high school age children would allow students to access after school activities and jobs. Other parts of the country have developed similar programs that work. In the past, RTS community survey responses have included requests for improvements to east-side RTS bus stops. Improvements could include benches, trashcans and/or covered stops. The roadblock with improvements is lack of funding.

GNV4ALL phase 1 recommendations, suggested targeted funding sources for east-side stop improvements such as paid advertising. Such a funding source would necessarily include a change in city land development code. Advertising at bus stops is done elsewhere. Such a change locally could generate private sector funds for targeted east-side bus stop improvements.

The city of Gainesville through Gainesville Regional Utilities could also potentially provide Wi-Fi on buses or at bus stops. Many of the riders from east Gainesville face rides that are over an hour in duration with multiple stops and long waits at stops and benches and Wi-Fi would be welcome amenities for those longer transit rides and waits.

One other frequent complaint of east-side riders is the frequency of service. Many east side routes only run once per hour — or every 30 minutes for limited periods. GNV4ALL would like to see increased numbers of 30-minute route frequencies and expanded hours of 30-minute frequency (for routes 2, 7, 11 and 711). GNV4ALL would also like to see added stops to existing east-side routes (for routes 2, 7, 11 and 711).

Finally, targeted direct RTS routes (to the Rosa Parks transit station, UF or Oaks Mall) from a new east-side transfer station and park-and-ride has been a long requested improvement. The wes side has had Oaks Mall as a park-and-ride for a number of years, but the east side has no similar site.

GNV4ALL understands that the city of Gainesville and Alachua County have agreed to fund RTS transportation improvements for east-side Gainesville communities as part of the recently concluded gas tax allocation negotiations. However, these improvements will be limited and will not start until 2019 when the funding becomes available.

We encourage the adoption and implementation of the GNV4ALL phase I and II transportation team recommendations to help improve transportation equity in our community.

Wendy Resnick leads the transportation portion of the GNV4ALL housing and transportation team.