Save Our Routes | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Save Our Routes

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JATRAN bus drivers stand in solidarity at one of several townhall meetings where the public expressed their opinions about proposed bus service changes.

Ineva May-Pittman took the mic and walked with a slight limp toward the front of the room to face the audience. Someone said, chuckling, "Ms. Pittman!" If her salt-and-pepper bob and conservative dress didn't give it away, what she said confirmed her senior-citizen status. May-Pittman's car-insurance rates have increased.

"They say the people who have the most accidents are young people and old people. I may not be able to afford to drive any more and may need the bus," she said.

Depending on what route(s) she would need, however, soon she may not be able to.

Nearly 100 concerned citizens gathered in the gymnasium of the Fresh Start Christian Church on Manhattan Road in Ward 2, on Thursday, Dec. 16. The feelings of distress were palpable. Among the citizenry, Ward 2 Councilman Chokwe Lumumba, city attorney James Anderson and local JATRAN union president Al Burns sat as the group, unanimously expressing their diametrical opposition to the city's proposed cutbacks of JATRAN services.

The changes come after Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. informed members of the city council last month that the city will have to shell out $984,000 in back pay, vacation and other costs by January, and include an extra $560,000 in next year's city budget to fund wage increases for the city's 49 unionized bus drivers and 14 maintenance employees. The additional expenses are a result of the city's most recent collective-bargaining agreement with union bus drivers.

Protesters were unequivocal about whom they thought the change would affect most: "blacks, the poor and the disabled," one woman shouted to nods of affirmation. In a city that reports 1.2 percent of its population relies on public transportation, including taxi services, the numbers may seem negligible. But it isn't numbers that will be affected; it's people, and the suggested service changes are far-reaching. Aside from a 21-person work-force reduction, riders can expect a decrease in peak services from 27 buses to 12; routes 4, 5, 6 and 8 will operate only in peak morning and afternoon hours; routes 10, 11, 13 and part of route 6 will be completely eliminated; handi-lift services will not expand; and Saturday service will be discontinued.

One attendee voiced the concerns of her wheelchair-bound brother Scott Crawford from her notes.

"This will devastate the working class of Jackson, and you can forget their taxes," she said, explaining that those who depend on the bus system to get to and from work, to grocery shop and conduct their business affairs would reduce the sales tax they pay to the city merely because they will be unable to get around with cut routes. "Who's going to pay for the public assistance they need?" she asked.

Her question is valid in a city where, at the last 2000 Census, more than 30 percent of its population lives below the national poverty line.

Before JATRAN user Fannie Wilson spoke about how the proposed changes affect the poor, she commended Lumumba for his work on the behalf of the people, to which he replied, "Thank you, sister, because all of the stories on the news aren't that good."

Wilson asked, supposedly, Mayor Johnson and those who support the JATRAN service changes rhetorically, "Who are you catering to?"

Certainly not the poor and working class, she suggested.

The dissidents who spoke were not all JATRAN dependent. Some said they were merely concerned citizens who cared about not only their neighbors but also about the city's growth and how the proposed cuts contradicted the state's claim to hospitality.

As one of the last to speak, Pittman urged the audience, as she concluded, to "vote against those who vote against you."

Saying that city officials told him not to speak out against the changes, at the meeting's end, Lumumba said, "I am fundamentally opposed to this change."

Some in the crowd showed their appreciation for his words by standing and applauding.

And with a twist of irony that confirmed how deeply the proposed service changes will affect the citizens of the city without cars, JATRAN Director of Operations Dewayne Cheatham orchestrated with Jackson residents who had taken the bus to get to the meeting, consolidating routes to ensure they all made it home.

The proposed JATRAN service changes are scheduled for a Tuesday, Dec. 28, vote in the Jackson City Council.

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