Monday, May 26, 2008

Part 1: Mass Transportation

When this commission took office it cost us under $40 to fill my wife's car with gas. Yesterday it cost $78.54. That is a 100% increase in 3.5 years. The commission has zero control over fuel costs, we all know that but the county commission (9 votes out of 13 on the CAT board) does control our mass transportation system - Chatham Area Transit. 

If you didn't read yesterdays lead article in the Savannah Morning News, you should. The County Commission has done little to build up the CAT system, improve its standing in the community and help move people from point A to point B. Clearly, the article describes a failing transporation system that is losing ridership big time and with bigger expenses to riders and taxpayers.

Having served on the County Commission and CAT board in 2002, 03 and 04, let me share with you my first hand impressions of how county government views with and deals with mass transportation.

First, CAT suffered from incredible mismanagement from First Transit, the company the County Commission/CAT board contracted with for annual management of the system. The Director had a majority of votes on the CAT board including Chairman Hair in his pocket. This meant that common sense issues could be shot down at will and grandiose ideas could move ahead with great ease.

What common sense ideas am I referring to? Each year, 02, 03, and 04 I asked for a phasing out of big buses and a phasing in of smaller buses fueled by natural gas. There were not enough votes to move ahead with this plan. Too many of my colleagues saw no point in changing over.

What plan got a lot of attention and money was something called "The Bi State Mobility Plan." As good as it sounds, the center piece of this plan was high speed ferry service to Daufuski Island and Hilton Head. Now as to Daufuski Island, the consultant who wrote the Bi State Mobility Plan briefed me and another commissioner on his study. Basically, we were informed that there was a great desire to visit Daufuske Island (and to privately develop the Island) but one small impediment. There was no road to the island. So, through the largess of all Chatham County taxpayers, a couple of multi million dollar ferries would fix that right quick. We of course were being sold the notion that the real need was from tourism - all those people just clamoring to visit Daufuski Island for the day to play golf and eat lunch (and visit  the model homes!).

So clean fueled, smaller more efficient buses were unnecessary while studying ($100,000) high speed ferry service to a private island made perfect sense.

NEXT: Bus shelters and "How many bus stops do we have?"


Anonymous said...

As the rest of the country surges toward public transport, here in Savannah there is a recoil. CAT is pathetic and has run itself into the ground. Liakakis, as chair of both, needs to step aside and let some innovators take over before the whole house of cards comes down.

John McMasters said...

Agreed. With strong belief and diligent effort, CAT will become a world class system, it does mean changing leadership and doing what's right, not what's politically correct.