Public transportation is in the works for rural East Texas counties

By Holley Nees - bio | email

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - The Texas Department of Transportation has agreed to fund meetings, like Thursday's first-ever Deep East Texas Transit Summit, over the next year to plan and come up with a solution to the public transportation problem.

The project itself is going to take a lot of funding because just to operate one city bus alone is $90,000 a year.   From seniors having access to medical attention to East Texans needing a ride to jobs and college, people at the meeting made it clear that there is a need for this initiative.

There may not be a lot of people in Center Texas, but the people that are here need a way to get around.

Sharon Windham attends the Senior Center and she admits, "It's pretty helpless feeling.  Even if your car breaks down, you know, and you need to go to the grocery store you have to rely on someone."

A situation Jonetta Doan said is not ideal.

"People want to be independent...and also if you're riding with someone you have to come when they come and leave when they leave," Doan said.

A problem some are trying to turn around.

"We believe that it's also an economic development process to go through because those folks need to get out and active in their community and it's just part of the quality of life," said DETCOG Director Walter Diggles.

However, in a few words Center Mayor John Windham said, "It's a struggle."

For the rural counties, it's all about the cold hard cash they don't have.

"The hardest part is the money, obviously.  Everything else is easy.  Buying buses, hiring drivers, setting up bus stops," Mayor Windham said.

The problem is simple, the solution is what's tough.

"They're isolated, they're remote, a lot of poverty, a lot of unemployment and these people need transportation to not only for medical attention, but also for groceries and recreation," Diggles said.

"We have good attendance, but it would be better if we had the place full," Sharon Windham said.

However, that won't happen without transportation and it's going to take a little strategy to get it.

"A bus service to be taken care of by a county, a rural county like ours is too expensive," Mayor Windham said.

Maybe someday down the road, the funds will roll in.

"Public Transportation in Shelby County would be a tremendous gift to this county because we have so many residents who are homebound," Director of Senior Nutrition Site Eugene Doan said.

For now, the city just waits to see the wheels on the bus.

Currently half of the counties in the Deep East Texas Council of Governments service area have no public transportation.