By Jacqueline Miles
Monday evening there was an outpouring of community residents to reject the idea of canceling the bus system in Escambia County. Moderated by Rick Outzen, publisher of the In Weekly, the town hall meeting was broadcast live on WCOA radio. “We want to thank everyone for coming,” he began. This is going to be a lively conversation and we want you to feel free to express your opinions.” When asked why they were holding this meeting, Mike Lowrey, president of ATU Local stated “We are holding this town hall meeting because these riders are passionate about this service. So the bus operators stood together and said we must do something for the bus riders because it is all about them. So when Commissioner Underhill started to talk about cutting service, immediately we knew it was not being brought directly to the riders. We reached out to them right away to let them know what was going on. We wanted to have their voice heard; not afterwards, but before, so they could talk about why this service is so important. “Jeff Rosenberg, Political Director of ATU, Washington DC also was asked what made this is important. He responded “We’ve seen this before. We represent workers in various cities throughout the United States and Canada and we know what it means not to have a bus. We know what it means when the roll of public transportation plays- getting access to health care and jobs and everywhere people have to go. We’ve seen what happens when misguided proposals come out to pull the plug on public transportation. “ Rev. H K Matthews also stated “I’m here to support the transit riders. When I look at the last paragraph on the agenda or the next to the last line and I see where one of the county commissioners is advocating curtailing bus service to a certain area, it troubles me. I live in Escambia County, Alabama. Century is in Escambia County. And this is no difference for the people in Century. Century is one of the poorest cities in Escambia County Florida. People who live in that city depend on public transit system to get them to and from the doctors, and other things that they have to get access to here in Pensacola, Florida. I would like to know if Commissioner Doug Underhill, if he lived in Century and not had private transportation, and the bus that ran back and forth to bring him to get things in Pensacola, would he be advocating curtailing service to that area? I doubt it.” After discussion of cutting the gas tax, it was stated that cutting the gas tax would not save anything in anyone’s pocket.
The panel for the town hall meeting consisted of; Ellison Bennet, Attorney Scott Remington, Pastor Larry Watson Jr., Councilwoman Sherry Meyers District 2, Mike Lowery, Jeff Rosenberg, H K Matthews, Commissioner Lumon May, and Rev. Lonnie Wesley III.
Many of the panelists expressed the support for the mass transit as at one time or the other in their lives, they too have used the bus. Councilwoman Sherrie Meyers gave a passionate speech about supporting and using the bus. She too, at one time rode the bus. Ellison Bennett stated “We have elected officials in this county that would put profit ahead of people. Some officials do not and have not ridden the bus. Maybe, what these officials need to do is get on the bus for thirty days. We have some hard working, wonderful people and I’m here to stand up for those people. “
Many of the residents expressed concern and outright anger at the thought of not having a bus system. Everyone agreed that Mass transit was the key to the economics of the city. Whether resident or tourist, Mass transit played an important role.
Residents were encouraged to attend Thursday’s County Commissioners meeting at 5:30pm to express their views and to also call their County Commissioners and let them know that mass transit should stay.
At the end of the meeting, because the bus system was closed, S L Jones Academy solely volunteered to use their buses to get residents home. Rev. Matthews stated “Rev. Demps, Pastor of Mt. Pilgrim Church -I personally commend you for furnishing the transportation for people that were not able to get to or from the Rally.”
Many ministers were asked but only Pastor Demps responded.
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