Editor’s note: The following letter was addressed to DelDOT Secretary Jennifer Cohan, regarding the need for increased bus service with basic amenities, and was sent to the Coastal Point for publication.
In Chapter 13, “The Mobility Element,” of Sussex’s 2018 Comprehensive Plan, under Public Transit, the current and pending service offered by the DART First State bus service is outlined.
“From September 2018, DART will have six year-round fixed bus routes in Sussex County (through conversion of some seasonal routes to year round service and by adding a new fixed route) and three flex bus routes.”
The Plan discusses DART’s on-demand, door-to-door paratransit services for senior citizens and persons with disabilities, mentioning that it accounts for more than 50 percent of all daily transit trips. In summary, the Comp Plan draft cites the need for increased public information about transit service providers, as well as the need to increase bus ridership. We contend that these statements suggest a woeful misunderstanding of key issues affecting DART’s bus ridership in Sussex County.
Although no one on our current LWVSC Board has yet taken a bus in Sussex (likely true of our County officials as well), a Lewes resident reports that she daily depends on the DART system to get from her home off Route 9 to her job, her volunteer commitments and shopping. We were amazed to learn that none of the bus stops that she uses along Route 9 and Route 1 have a posted schedule.
She further explained that trying to obtain the information by phone is an exercise in frustration, compounded by the fact that the buses regularly run 30 to 45 minutes late. This puts her at potential risk for losing her job. Since bus shelters are a rarity, she finds herself a victim of the elements during the weather extremes of each season.
Examining this issue further, we discovered that in Sussex, there is no bus service on Routes 24, 26, 54 and 17, to cite just a few major roads, and none at all in the western part of the county.
When one considers that most of the major employers for residents with low to moderate incomes are located in these areas, we find it mind-boggling that public transportation to meet these residents’ employment needs is non-existent.
In the eastern part of Sussex, during the crowded summer season, decent attention has been paid to the public transport needs of tourists, including the provision of bus shelters. In contrast, the transit concerns of our hardworking Sussex residents have been disregarded.
In Sussex, the public transport needs of employees with low to moderate incomes, a dependable demographic, the life blood of every bus system across the country, are completely ignored. Car transportation is not only costly for these workers, their commuter traffic compounds our severely overcrowded roads. Has no one considered how much traffic congestion would be alleviated by an efficient, dependable bus service?
When discussing Sussex’s economic development needs, what employer would consider moving here without dependable public transportation for their employees? When discussing the pressing need for affordable, workforce rental housing in lower and western Sussex, what developer would focus on this demographic when their potential renters have no reasonable means to get to their jobs?
We believe that bus ridership in Sussex is a classic example of the proverbial chicken-and-egg dilemma. When you participated as a panel member in our League of Women Voters forums in April 2016 and September 2016, the need for increased public transportation was raised by audience members.
In our subsequent March 2017 forum, which focused on affordable/workforce housing, the need for increased bus routes, with more frequent stops, was raised as a critical issue. In response to the audience’s questions, you stated that bus routes will be increased as ridership increases. However, given the extremely limited bus routes in most of Sussex, workers who lack cars, who would utilize public transport were it available, cannot accept a job unless it is within a reasonable walking or biking distance.
We believe that for the reasons outlined, the public transit problems cited in the 2018 Comp Plan have completely missed the point. Bus ridership will increase when dependable efficient routes are provided across the county for those desperately in need of public transit.
Yes, increased public information about transit service providers is needed. Posting timed schedules at every bus stop and providing bus shelters is a basic starting point.
We are encouraged that Sussex County officials are currently seeking suggestions from residents for the 2025 Capital Transportation Program. We trust that under your direction, DelDOT, working with Sussex County Council, can provide a bus transit system to meet the needs of our workforce, with the added benefits of alleviating traffic congestion and promoting county-wide economic development.
Martha Redmond, President
League of Women Voters of Sussex County (LWVSC)
Sue Claire Harper, Co-chair
LWVSC Land Use Committee