Mayoral candidates talk transportation

Editor’s note: This is the third part of a series that will take a look at how candidates for Seymour mayor plan to address issues if elected.

Public transportation is an important service provided by the Seymour Transit system to residents who have no other way to get where they need to go.

The city operates five buses that allow people to call and schedule rides to work, to doctor’s appointments or to pick up groceries.

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Candidates running to be Seymour’s next mayor have a few ideas of how to improve the system and make the community more accessible to everyone.

During Saturday’s mayoral candidate forum at Celebrations, seven candidates addressed the issue of transportation as a barrier for people and how the existing bus system could be strengthened.

Candidates in attendance were Democrats Mike Kelly and Rexanne Ude and Republicans Bridey Jacobi, Tom Joray, Matt Nicholson, Nathan Otte and Matt Rowe. Democratic candidate Tyler Henkle did not attend.

There is a need for change to afford equal access and opportunity to public transportation, Ude, 62, said.

The city must consider changes in demographics, inaccessible stops and the population of non-English riders, she added.

As mayor, Ude said she would develop collaborative efforts with community organizations and businesses that depend on the public transit system to get people to their locations, staff operations with necessary tools to support those initiatives, use clear quantifiable metrics to measure success, provide impeccable customer service and make decisions based on customer satisfaction.

“As the city moves forward, the focus should be on better utilization, lower costs and public transportation so that we can allow individuals with barriers to experience full inclusion in the community,” she said.

One of the things Nicholson, 41, said he is looking into is expanding bus service to just outside city limits to give more residents access.

“Currently, if you live in Sycamore Springs or Pebblebrook, you can’t catch the bus from your home,” he said. “You have to walk up (U.S.) 31 to almost the intersection of 31 and (U.S.) 50 to catch a ride.”

Another issue is the transit system only runs Monday through Friday, he added.

Several years ago, the city tried to operate buses on the weekends, but ridership wasn’t enough to make it efficient, he said.

He believes now is the time to look into adding more hours of bus service.

“Now that the program is older, larger, we need to offer Saturday service short term to make sure it’s a viable option,” he said.

Buses aren’t the only form of transit available in the city, however, Nicholson added.

“It can be active transportation,” he said. “It can be walking or biking.”

Nicholson is part of the city’s trails committee that has worked to implement bike paths and trails in the city.

“Active transportation, we can make it safer for all without hindering car traffic,” he said.

The city’s bus system needs to have regular stops, including at the factories, instead of being an on-call service, Kelly, 61, said.

“I think that would help with their labor shortages and make it easier for people to get to work who don’t have a driver’s license,” he said.

He also said the system could benefit from another bus to be able to fill the need for rides.

For those who would rather walk, Kelly said the city needs to provide more sidewalks.

“Hopefully, we can come up with some kind of solution,” he said.

Public transportation is a major issue for people without transportation, such as the elderly and those without driver’s licenses, Rowe, 43, said.

He would like to see more people utilize the bus service.

“I feel that we have a good system in place. We just need to increase ridership,” he said.

To do that, people need to be educated on the bus service and how it operates, he added.

“I would like to make a large marketing push to let our citizens know about the options available and how to utilize them,” he said. “I would like to see representatives from public transportation at our community events.”

In addition to increasing ridership, Rowe said he also would update infrastructure if elected, including roads and sewer and water drains.

“I do not want this to become a problem that we have to deal with immediately,” he said. “I would like to deal with these issues proactively before they become an emergency and health and safety issue.”

Physical access to services and the role of public transportation has a long history of debate, Jacobi, 43, said.

“This is due to the complexity of the issue,” she said. “I believe complex issues are tackled with information.”

Jacobi said the city needs to gather information from citizens who use the bus service to explain exactly what they need, from local agencies that provide transportation to find out what is already being done, from local employers to see if there is a need to expand the system, on current operating trends in public transportation and on creative funding and requirements.

After gathering that information, Jacobi said she would form smaller groups to identify and implement solutions that would work for the city.

“I believe the answer will be found in a collaborative funding model that uses sources of income from the public and private sector to provide an efficient model to meet the needs of Seymour’s citizens,” she said.

With increasing ridership, Jacobi said there are lots of inefficiencies.

“Information is key to focus the system to provide the biggest impact on the lives of our residents,” she said.

Many residents didn’t have the opportunity to attend the mayoral candidate forum because they didn’t have a way to get there, Otte, 35, said.

“Transportation is a barrier to financial stability in our community,” he said. “We need to consider multiple approaches to the problem.”

The first step he would take if elected is making small, creative changes to the current public transportation system.

“Simple things like changing how the bus passes currently expire or a more flexible distribution option for service organizations to provide passes to clients,” he said.

As mayor, Otte said he would leverage industries’ responsibility to make sure their employees have a way to work through corporate-sponsored van share programs to expand bus routes to factories at the start and end of shifts.

“We also need to provide safe and accessible routes by foot and bike,” he said. “That would include painting more bike lanes, building more sidewalks and incorporating protected trails along our busiest roads.”

He also said the city should partner with the county to expand public transportation to include daily trips to Brownstown so people needing to get to court have a way to get there.

“Changes like these will improve access to resources and reduce a barrier to financial stability in our community,” he said.

In Joray’s opinion, Seymour’s public transit system is working “very good” right now.

“It’s costing Seymour taxpayers about $110,000 a year,” he said. “The budget, I believe, is around $430,000, so the other $320,000 is grant money from the state, I believe.”

The system runs Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Joray, 59, said.

“The cost to the people that ride the bus is $25 a month, which is very reasonable,” he said.

But he doesn’t believe the system is being used to capacity.

“Maybe people don’t know the number to call,” he said. “Maybe it needs to be advertised more, but I think the system is adequate the way it is.”

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Seymour mayoral candidates for the May 7 primary election

Democrats: Tyler Henkle, Mike Kelly and Rexanne Ude

Republicans: Bridey Jacobi, Tom Joray, Matt Nicholson, Nathan Otte and Matt Rowe