Considering the City (and County): An EMTA charter for the 21st century

Categories:  News & Politics    Community
Thursday, July 7th, 2016 at 12:28 PM
Considering the City (and County): An EMTA charter for the 21st century by Lisa Austin, Civitas
contributed photo

When the Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority (EMTA) charter was signed in 1966, Lou Tullio was mayor. With few updates, Mayor Sinnott wants to renew that contract. Is this in the best interest of residents?

Some weeks ago, the County has announced that it wants to control the EMTA board appointments. This is not unreasonable. County Councilman Andre Horton noted that County already funds “the lion’s share” of the EMTA budget and represents 100% of the ridership.

The County offered to fully fund the EMTA, freeing thousands of City dollars for other needs. While EMTA drivers and mechanics need job security, handing the financial responsibility of the EMTA to the County would be a step towards needed regionalization. However, as I suggested (and as City Councilman Dave Brennan has also proposed) the County would be wise to sweeten the deal by offering the City a (financial) acknowledgement of the City’s original investment in the EMTA, and the City’s subsequent decades of housing the EMTA facility - tax-free.

The Erie Times-News reported that that Brennan hoped to “help resolve an ongoing dispute” over the EMTA charter by making a proposal. But both City and County leaders dismissed Brennan’s draft  compromise. And, in another telling response, no one from City or County Council honored All Aboard Erie’s invitation to an EMTA dialogue.

While the County Executive has stated her interest in further discussions, our Mayor announced plans to move forward on a new Charter without County support, giving the City complete control over EMTA board appointments.

Both City and County leaders dismissed Brennan’s draft compromise. And, in another telling response, no one from City or County Council honored All Aboard Erie’s invitation to an EMTA dialogue.

Political appointments have not served Erie well.  If the EMTTA board included people who actually walked the city and rode the buses, two foolish decisions could have been prevented:

1) The closing of the Division Street railroad underpass blocked a direct route from public housing to Pfeiffer-Burleigh Elementary School, further compromising Erie’s fragmented urban grid. A visiting urban designer commented that it is “hard to believe any community is still making this kind of mistake.”

2) The relocation of buses from State to French and Peach, though just a one or two block move, is an increase in distance that is an obstacle for some riders – especially in winter. Last August, a tiny 92-year-old woman waited for a bus on a desolate one-way side street. She commented that since the bus’s move to French, she only visits her friends during summer months because the isolated stops seems “too far” and “unsafe” in the cold and the dark. Businesses have also lost out from the move. Annie Linebach, owner of the Peanut Shoppe at 10th and State streets, complained that casual customers who previously shopped while waiting for their bus have disappeared.

Last summer I suggested reserving some board seats for stakeholders who ride the bus. As a gesture toward involving riders, Brennan recently proposed to formalize the role of the Riders Advisory Committee. But, without a vote, riders remain powerless.

Will Erie continue to accept the Tullio-era practice of behind-closed-doors decision-making? Or, will we insist on transparency, collaboration and innovation?  Experienced riders serving on a regionalized EMTA Board would insure better, more inclusive, and sustainable transit decisions. Sounds very 21st century - doesn’t it?

Civitas members can be reached at their website civitaserie.com, via Facebook at CivitasErie, by emailing Lisa@civitaserie.com, or by scheduling a Friday morning meeting at the Civitas office in the Masonic Building.

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