It appears the Town of Oro Valley has come up with a “win-win” alternative to keep the same quality service provided by the Coyote Run Transit System, just under a different identity with the Regional Transportation Authority.
Interim Town Manager Greg Caton said the council-appointed subcommittee, which consists of councilmen Steve Solomon and Lou Waters, has been able to talk to Coyote Run users, and work with the RTA to find a solution that could be acceptable to all parties involved.
That solution is to turn the program over to the RTA as originally planned, but with a new concept. That is for the RTA to subcontract the transit services back to the Town of Oro Valley, which means the same vehicles and drivers will be used, and the current personnel will still manage all of it. The difference, explained Caton, is that the RTA will own the transit service.
Councilman Bill Garner, who was against eliminating the Coyote Run services, approves of the new course of action, and would be agreeable to it if it proceeds as planned.
Terry Thompson, of the Friends of Coyote Run, said he also agrees with how the Town of Oro Valley is proceeding. Thompson’s daughter uses Coyote Run to travel to a day program in downtown Tucson.
“Given the situation as it is, this is something we could live with,” said Thompson. “I think the citizens could really get behind this plan. Right now we are getting behind the council with this current plan.”
Caton said the town is in no hurry, as Coyote Run services are funded for at least one more year in the town’s budget. An official vote is expected in February.
In the meantime, the town is planning a series of community meetings to properly inform the public about the negotiations that continue with the RTA.
In order for this plan to become official, the RTA Board of Directors also must approve it.
Carlos de Leon, the RTA director of transit services, said his staff worked on the concept throughout the summer, and the process is moving forward. A transit-working group is reviewing the policies and procedures. It will make an official recommendation to the RTA board on how to proceed.
De Leon said the concept the Oro Valley subcommittee has come up with has also allowed the RTA to take a hard look at the regional program, and review service quality.
One of the areas to be considered is the phone system. Currently, there are six different phone lines for the various services, de Leon said, but quality can be improved by reducing that to one phone line.
The problem Coyote Run users had with the original plan to unilaterally turn over transit services to the RTA was the loss of quality services. Riders, such as Thompson, have said they trust the drivers of Coyote Run, and would like the same level of service to remain intact.
“The subcommittee has done an excellent job to be creative on how we come to a solution with our community,” said Caton. “This plan is really a win for the RTA, it’s a win for Oro Valley, and it’s a win for the riders.”
Caton said the quick and easy solution to just turn services over to the RTA wasn’t the best option for the town. Now, town officials feel they are on the correct path, but are asking for the public’s patience as they continue to negotiate with the RTA and communicate with citizens.
The debate over how to handle the town’s transit services started in June when the council worked to cut the budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year. The council first discussed whether to eliminate the $330,000 Coyote Run program; however, the council voted to keep it after emotional pleas from citizens.
Town officials said the reality is the program still costs more than $300,000 a year, and without state assistance, Oro Valley cannot continue to pay for it. Because of the circumstances, the council had planned to turn the program over to the RTA.
To balance the budget, state lawmakers voted two years ago to eliminate transit funding.
A recent court ruling against the state’s action could eventually work in Oro Valley’s favor. In the meantime, Caton said it’s going to be important to keep services in operation.