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Rural transit good for economy

By By LYDIA GRIMES Features writer
Rep. Jo Bonner's bus tour promoting rural transit rolled through Escambia County Thursday afternoon in an effort to gain support for a regional approach for rural transit.
The bus tour was promoting the Regional Public Transit Summit scheduled for Feb. 25, at the Arthur R. Outlaw Convention Center in Mobile.
Dr. Phillip Norris of the University of South Alabama outlined some of the goals of the conference.
"We want to get all the actors in this involved," Norris said. "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."
Paperwork distributed by Bonner staffers stated 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 pointed 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."
The following will join Bonner as speakers 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.