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Riders rally around increased bus service

by Amy Kingsley

BobbyWilson looked both ways before he tucked his clipboard under his armand stepped off the curb last week in front of the Clark CampbellTransportation Center in downtown Winston-Salem. Hecrossed the driveway to the notched concrete strip where dozens of busriders waited beneath numbered flags, delivered his pitch and offered apetition.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” Wilson said. “We’re trying to get bus service on Sundays and on holidays.” Victoria Richardson nodded.

“Yeah,they need to do that,” she said as she signed her name. “’Cause somepeople have to work on Saturdays and Sundays, and I don’t know how theydo that now.” Wilson and his organization, Human Understanding ofManagement and Numismatics, or HUMAN, are lobbying the Winston-SalemTransit Authority and the city council to extend bus service,particularly on the weekends. The transit authority will expand serviceon Saturdays this fall, taking routes that have shut down at 6 p.m. andextending them to 11:30 to accommodate downtown visitors and workers.But the service increase will not spill over to Sundays or holidays,when the buses and their riders sit idle. So far, Wilson and hissupporters have taken their case to the transit authority’s board ofdirectors — where he said it was well received — and to the leadershipof a couple local bus systems. Winston-Salemcity administrators invited them to speak in front of the city councilon July 21. There he will present the 2,700 signatures he and his teamof volunteers have collected during the last two weeks. Thepetition started circulating on July 7. Every day since then, Wilsonand his helpers have hit Campbell hard, starting as early as seven oreight in the morning. Wilson’s efforts are at least partiallysymbolic. Although he’s concerned about people marooned by inadequateweekend bus service, HUMAN is, at its core, an educational enterprise. On a recent weekday, that education included teaching a reporter the definition of the acronym’s final letter: numismatic. “It’sthe study of money,” he said. The group, which has existed since 1993,has had a hand in promoting federal incentives for business owners whohire convicted felons. Wilson said he recently organized an exhibitionof artwork by prisoners, planned a voter registration drive for countyinmates with misdemeanors and arranged a field trip to an equestriancamp for inner city children. “The mission is to improvemankind through education,” he said. One of the goals of the petitiondrive is to raise the awareness of bus riders, who may not realize thatthey can have a say in how the system works, he said. “I tell people togo to the board meetings,” Wilson said. “You won’t believe how wellthese people eat, and that’s your tax money paying for that.” One ofthe women he took to the July transit board meeting was a domesticworker unhappy with the lack of public transportation to the wealthyparts of town where she works. Wilson said it’s important to bringconsumers to the transit board. If the board were comprised ofregular bus riders, Wilson said, then it might have recommendedexpanding Saturday service years ago for riders like Ben Sheppard, whouses the bus to get to work on that day. “I usually catch the bus earlyin the morning on Saturday and I catch it back at six o’clock before itstops running,” he said. “I like the idea of running on Sundays becauseWinston-Salem’s way behind and we need to catch up.” Greensboro TransitAuthority has seven routes that run from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.HiTran, the bus service in High Point, has no service in weekdays after6:30 p.m., limited service on Saturdays and no service on Sundays. ExpandingWinston-Salem’s bus service to Sundays isn’t a matter of snapping yourfingers, said Art Barnes, general manager of the Winston-Salem TransitAuthority. “It’s not something that’s going to happentomorrow,” he said. “Expanding services this fall, that process tookmonths and months.” Funding is one of the stumbling blocks. Afederal grant allowed city leaders to move forward with plans to expandservice on Saturdays, but more money would have to be raised to keepbuses going on Sundays. Because the campaign to includeSundays and some holidays on the bus schedule is young, Barnes said hehad no idea how much it might cost Winston- Salem taxpayers. Wilsonsaid the people he’s spoken to would support an increase in their taxrate if it paid for a seven-day-a-week bus system that would allow themto avoid emptying their wallets to fill up their cars.

“Thiswasn’t really a community wide issue until it became an economiccrunch,” he said. “This is a town that has a lot of what you would callworking class people. It’s not a college town. We have a very strictlabor class of people. And we’re not servicing the people who need theservice.” The riders standing in line for the Route 5 passedthe petition down the row, and most added their signatures. They willbe there — in spirit at least — when Wilson addresses the council. “Thiswill give us a chance to have some remedy to this,” Wilson said. “A lotof people are complacent because they don’t know how not to be.Complacency is a very tough thing to overcome.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com.

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