Sunday, March 24, 2013

Lee MPO Board sends letter to FGCU President re: funding transit service to FGCU

 At Friday's MPO Joint Lee/Collier Board meeting the Board discussed at length the issue of transit service to FGCU.  The Board voted to send a letter to President Bradshaw requesting that FGCU work with Lee County and LeeTran to identify funding to keep the Route 60 service operating.  BikeWalkLee strongly supports this action by the MPO and encourages FGCU to work with LeeTran and other community partners to resolve the immediate funding problem and play a longer term leadership role in support of multi-modal transportation.

See Naples Daily News 4/1/13 article on issue.


In February, an agreement between FGCU and Lee County about funding for the LeeTran Route 60 expired, and FGCU decided to discontinue its shared of the funding for the route (about 50% of the cost), leaving LeeTran with few options other than to recommend discontinuation of Route 60 that runs from US 41 through San Carlos Park over to the University and back.

Friday's MPO Discussion and Action
At the March 22nd Joint Lee/Collier Counties MPO Board meeting, at the recommendation of the joint Lee/Collier Citizens' Advisory Committee, the Lee MPO Board* voted to send a letter to the FGCU President requesting that they continue to work with Lee County and LeeTran to identify funding to keep the LeeTran Route 60 service operating.  See the MPO letter below that was sent to FGCU on March 22nd.  *The Collier MPO Board didn't have a quorum and could not vote.

 Prior to the vote, there was extensive discussion by MPO Board members as well as public testimony.  Councilman Tom Leonardo (Fort Myers) was concerned about the inefficiency of Route 60 and questioned whether the route should be maintained given budget pressures and the need to set priorities. 
Councilman Mike Flanders (Fort Myers) stated that he had spent 1 1/2 years working at FGCU and expressed concern that the University was not promoting multi-modal transportation and that they need to diversify and show more participation and involvement in the community.  He stated his support for the MPO letter, stating that it is a good signal for the MPO to send re: multi-modal transportation and the need to place a higher priority on participation in the community.  

Mayor Ben Nelson (Bonita Springs) argued that we need more transit service to FGCU, not less--the two hour headways is too long.  He argued that the MPO should be forceful in urging the University, which bills itself as sustainability-focused school, to participate in the county's multi-modal transportation planning and in finding a solution to the current funding problem for Route 60.  

Councilman Steve McIntosh (Bonita Springs) expressed concern about where the University was going to find the $250,000 needed to continue to pay for Route 60.

Ann Pierce of BikeWalkLee highlighted what can happen when a new University focuses on cars and doesn't think long-term about the need for a multi-modal transportation system as the University grows.  She cited George Mason University (GMU) in Northern Virginia as an object lesson.  When GMU was built in the appoximate center of Fairfax County in the 1970s, it was in a rural area and the University decided not to become part of the planning for the greater DC metro area subway and transit system but rather to rely solely on roads.  As a result of their refusal to think long-term about multi-modal, GMU is now a poster child of notorious traffic problems and gridlock for that whole region.  It is important that FGCU not become such in southwest Florida.  Ann spoke about the need for FGCU to be involved in long range planning in the county.  To date, they have been absent from the County's Comprehensive Plan update process and were absent from the MPO's 2035 LRTP process.  These plans affect the quality of life and economic viability of our region and the University needs to take a proactive role.

Roger Strelow of the Estero Council of Community Leaders and spoke of the importance of not regarding the current situation as a given.  FGCU has policies in their Campus Master Plan to incentivize multi-modal transportation, but they have more parking garages and parking spaces than almost any other university.  By being so car-focused, they are sending the following signals to the students--"bring your car--there's plenty of room".  He noted that we know from research that today's young people are less interesting in owning a car.  Roger highlighted what other universities are doing to finance transit services for students, including the University of Florida--a contribution for transit services is part of the student fees.  FGCU's fee structure should incentivize the use of transit.  He also suggested that the route and frequency should be re-examined to find ways to make it work better.  He urged the University to sit down with LeeTran to talk about options that the University has to strengthen demand for service.

Michael Griffin of the SWFL Transportation Group also highlighted what other universities have done to charge student fees for public transit services.  He also suggested that the private sector should be part of the discussions with FGCU.

Dr. Margaret Banyan, FGCU faculty member, spoke representing herself, to say that there is discussion internally at the university about the need to restore funding for this transit service.  Faculty are asking that the university to look at other funding options and encouraged the MPO to send this letter.

Commissioner Manning also supported sending the letter saying the BoCC needs to know what FGCU intends to do before the County Commission has to address the issue in its budget.  MPO Board Chair, Mayor Kevin Ruane supported moving forward with the letter and suggested that FGCU explore ways to enhance and expand transit services.  The vote by the Lee MPO in support of the letter was unanimous.

Below is the letter that the MPO Board sent to FGCU President Bradshaw on March 22, 2013: 

Dear President Bradshaw:

The Lee MPO Board is sending this letter to encourage the University to continue funding FGCU’s share of funding for the LeeTran Route 60 which provides public transit service to the Campus. Having transit services to the University is an important alternative transportation option for the students, faculty and staff reaching the campus as well as providing access to off campus attractions, work and housing. The inclusion of public transit service to the University is identified in many of the Objectives and Policies of the recently completed Campus Master Plan and is an important Transportation Demand Management strategy to help mitigate the traffic impact as the University continues to grow. 

The current and projected student enrollment places significant demands on Lee and Collier county transportation systems: both the road and transit networks.  If, as has been identified in the Master Plan, most of the student housing for the University will be off-campus, this will require more transportation options for students.  Close to fifty percent of the students that attend the University come from Lee or Collier County making transit a viable option. The use of the transit system to access the University is not just for the large student population but also for the faculty and staff that make the University the 19th largest employer in the five county region.   

The Joint MPO Board recommends that FGCU continue to work with LeeTran and the Lee County Government to identify the funding needed to keep this important transit service operating. 

Mayor Kevin Ruane                                                            
Lee County MPO Chairman                                                


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