PBC leaders accused of trying to balance the county budget off the backs of the poor, elderly & disabled
By K. Chandler
Palm Beach County’s public transportation system, Palm Tran is poised to increase bus fares Oct. 7, evoking strong emotions from county bus riders who turned out in full force recently for a PBC Commission meeting held at the Government Center in West Palm Beach.
The new bus fares slated to go into effect include:
· A $0.50 cent increase in single trip fares from $1.50 to $2.00;
· A $1 hike in the price of a one-day pass from $4 to $5 per day;
· A one-day reduced fare pass will go from $3.00 to $3.50 per day;
· A $0.50 cent rate increase for PBC elderly and handicapped riders who utilize Palm Tran Connection buses that pick up clients from home, raising their rate from $3.00 to $3.50;
· Monthly passes now cost $70 up from $60; 31-day reduced fares are now $55 up from $50;
· A 50 percent increase in monthly passes for individuals whose annual income is 75 percent below the federal poverty line ($8,250). Riders will now pay $15 a month up from $10 per month, marking the biggest increase of all the fare hikes.
One after another, people walked, rolled wheel chairs or used canes for the blind as they made their way up to the podium to address county commissioners and Palm Tran officials.
Among the criticisms leveled at the presiding body were too few routes going east and west from Belvedere Road to Palmetto Parkway on weekdays, with virtually no bus service at all after 7 p.m. and even earlier hours on the weekends, leaving thousands of low-to-middle income Floridians in the lurch without viable transportation to and from jobs along major thoroughfares throughout Palm Beach County. Only two bus routes, the #2 (Congress Avenue) and the #3 (Military Trail) going from the Palm Beach Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens to the Towne Center Mall in Boca Raton, run up until around 10 p.m., and cover a distance of roughly (miles), leading some to question who the county is catering to – seasonal residents/tourists and area college students or working class people in dire need of living wage jobs.
Filthy, cockroach filled buses
Filthy buses with cock-roaches and urine smelling seats, along with drivers who are chronically late and sometimes rude, comprised other complaints. It is widely held, that if it could be calculated just how many bus riders lost jobs due to being repeatedly late for work, the results would be telling. Often the only alternative to being late is to leave for work 1-1/2 hours earlier than necessary, however, with young school age children and toddlers attending daycare this is often not possible, again leaving single mothers and others in the lurch.
According to Sheila Bright, a former resident of Boynton Beach who is visually impaired, the fare hike is extremely unfair given that “millions are being spent elsewhere” in the county to benefit people who are no-where near the lower end of the financial totem pole.
“We’re already down at the bottom of the barrel. We’re having to save this, cut that; there’s no more cutting that can be done. People are at the end of their rope, and they’re sick and tired of them increasing costs for us so that people with more means can hold on to their money.”
Thomas Knueppel, a disabled resident of Palm Beach County who lives in Green-acres, criticized Palm Tran for how ineffective the bus connections often are. He pointed out that people will be getting off one bus only to see a connecting bus depart from a stop across the street, forcing them to have to wait for the next bus, which, depending on the route, can be up to an hour wait.
Judy Rodriguez of Palm Springs, a marketing representative, noted that her pay-check is definitely impacted every week due to the fact that she has to leave work at 7 p.m. every night to catch the last #62 bus running eastbound along Lake Worth Road, which arrives at 7:20 p.m. If that bus ran at least until 9:30 p.m. she said she could get in another 2 hours daily, and her gross annual income (based on $10 per hour) would increase by $400 per month or $3,600 a year.
“This puts a great hardship on working people,” she said.
Another long-term rider, who asked to remain anonymous, decried a system that she believed might actually be bordering on discrimination. By way of example, she pointed to the bus routes going over to Palm Beach Island where domestics and healthcare givers tend to the needs of some of the wealthiest people in the nation.
Incredibly, she noted, buses going over to the Island depart from the mainland between 6:35 a.m. and 8:35 a.m., then discontinue service for 6 hours, resuming pick up service around 2:45 in the afternoon with buses only running until 5:15 p.m. to take workers from Palm Beach Island back to their homes on the mainland.
“What about the single mother with a sick child who needs to be picked up from school? What if there is a family emergency? The general feeling is that this is by design; the powers that be over on the Island don’t want the presence of ‘undesirables’ over there and are determined to keep it that way, even if it means that workers have no way to get back to the main-land in the case of a family emergency.”
When this subject was brought up to Jeannie Taylor, Planner for Palm Tran, she said that it was the Town of Palm Beach that “didn’t want buses there all day long and made us remove them.”
When asked what the rationale was, she noted that they (Town of Palm Beach) felt the buses were “big, obtrusive, and noisy. We argued to keep service, they removed them.”
Perhaps the harshest criticism leveled at PBC Commissioners and Palm Tran Executives stems from the county’s attempt to close a $1.4 million shortfall in the county’s $4 billion budget. Surely, many contend, the County can come up with some other creative solution to fill the gap rather than trying to balance the budget off the backs of the poor, elderly and handicapped.
Adding insult to injury, the decision to raise bus fare rates was arrived at less than 24 hours after the County Commission meeting, leading many to conclude that it was all a sham – a dog and pony show put on for the public’s sake – nothing more; nothing less.