While city residents have likely seen the red and white Pine Bluff Transit buses making their way around town, most have probably given little extra thought to this municipal department and to the critical service that it provides.
Transit Director Charlina Lacy oversees a department that employs 28 people, including 16 full- and part-time drivers responsible for operating six buses, and two para-transit vans.
“Since I started six months ago ridership has increased from 125 weekly to almost 300 per week,” said Lacy. “We have a number of riders who use Pine Bluff Transit to commute to and from work at Tyson and Walmart. We also serve quite a few senior citizens aged 62 and older.”
“We offer service down S. Hazel St. to Davis Life Care on an as-needed basis,” Lacy said. “People call when they need a ride to or from that location. It does not make economic sense to send a bus on a regular route to Davis because we wouldn’t have any passengers much of the day.”
Full fare is $1 while students ride for 80 cents and senior citizens and disabled patrons ride for 50 cents per trip.
“At present you need to have exact change for the fare box,” Lacy said. “The bus drivers are not allowed to make change or to accept money from riders.”
Lacy has already made her mark on the transit agency over the past six months.
“We began to offer monthly passes to riders,” Lacy said. “Riders are able to use the bus as much as they want for $30 per month. That’s quite a bargain when compared to the single trip fare of $1. Before, the most that people could buy was a 10- ticket booklet.
“I am most proud of the five new bus shelters that we have installed around town,” Lacy said. “When I first got here I saw several people waiting to catch the bus in the pouring rain. That really irritated me, so we partnered with the Department of Correction. They helped me design them, they built them and they installed them.”
Lacy said she is hoping for five additional bus shelters.
“We have applied for a grant to purchase the software needed for us to begin using electronic fare cards on our buses,” Lacy said. “Right now our fare boxes are so 1978. Once we have the system set up riders will buy their fare card and load it with a specific dollar amount. Then, they will scan their card when getting on and off the bus and the fare will be automatically debited.”
Lacy hopes to be able to set up a transfer center where riders will be able to buy fare cards, check their balances and add funds to the card using machines made for that purpose.
“Once daylight saving time begins we plan to expand our hours from the current 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday to 6 a.m to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday,” Lacy said.
Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth anticipates that the transit system will grow in tandem with the city.
“As our city’s population grows so will the economic opportunities for our citizens,” Hollingsworth said. “With the transit system we have in place at present, we will be able to expand our routes which will increase services to our citizens. We are looking forward to receiving the federal funding that will allow us to equip our buses with the latest technology.”
Hollingsworth said that the installation of transit card technology will allow the agency to become more efficient and will allow it to easily see the number of passengers riding the buses at any given time.
“We are already in all of the neighborhoods but we can look at whether we need to expand the routes within each neighborhood,” Hollingsworth said. “With growth comes a lot of great opportunity, which we are banking on.”
The funding sources for the Pine Bluff Transit budget are split between the federal government and city government on an 80 percent to 20 percent basis according to Lacy.
The recently approved $1.4 million Transit Department budget for 2014 includes $1.1 million in federal grants and $300,000 in municipal funding.
A full bus schedule is available on the Pine Bluff Transit website at www.cityofpinebluff.com/pbtransit/. For further information call (870) 543-5130.