Tuesday, January 11, 2011

News-Press: Lee seeks support for public transportation effort

Outreach necessary to expand system

By Brian Liberatore • bliberatore@news-press.
com• January 11, 2011

If Lee County wants viable public
transportation, it's going to need public support
and public dollars.

Commissioners are hoping the latest effort to secure
both will prove more productive than other attempts
during the last decade.

Commissioners during a workshop Monday agreed
to form a 15-member committee tasked with drafting
a plan to create and fund public transportation
people would want to use. A handful of similar
committees, plans and studies since 2000 have had
little impact.

"Unless we get the community to buy in, it's going to
fall on deaf ears," Commissioner Ray Judah said,
"This looks like a pretty good attempt, but there
needs to be even greater outreach."

Right now, the wait for LeeTran buses at some spots
can be 60 to 90 minutes. Only about 5 percent of
the population uses the bus system, most because
they have no other choice.

"It has to be convenient," Darla Letourneau said of
the transit system. She is a member of BikeWalkLee,
which promotes community planning that considers
more than automobile traffic. "People have to not
worry about the schedule of the buses to know it's
going to meet their needs."

To sell the concept, Letourneau added, the county
should consider a model route, possibly out to the
airport. The public would likely be more willing to
buy into something they could see.

Funding that system, however, has always been the

County property tax dollars pay for about half of the
system's $20 million budget. Cutting bus stop waits
to 15 minutes would cost roughly $30 million more
a year, MPO staff estimated. With the county already
struggling to fill a $50 million hole in its general
fund, which is funded through property tax dollars,

there is little room for spending increases.

Local leaders in 2003 talked about a special taxing
district, but the plan would have pushed the city of
Fort Myers past its state-mandated taxing limits A
different committee last year suggested a 1-cent
sales tax dedicated to expanding public
transportation. But county commissioners decided
against putting the measure on the ballot, saying it
was premature.

The latest committee will have a year to hammer out
a new approach.

Commissioner Tammy Hall said she is hoping
public advocacy - such as that of BikeWalkLee - will
make the difference.

"For the first time there seems to be an organization
of concerned citizens really talking about (this),"
Hall said.

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