I sat at the table. The paper placard in front of me had my name printed on it to remind people of who I am.  For about four terms, I’ve served either as an alternate or a member of a local coordinating board for transportation in our county.  I have, in fact, sat through multiple meetings like this one in three different counties in Florida.

While I serve as a citizen advocate on this board, the issues that face us are more complex than I ever imagined when I first started to attending them.  Of course, I sat dazed by the acronyms and double speak that swirled around me for the first couple of months; but I assured myself that if I continued to attend, I would gradually begin to understand what was being discussed.

Then I applied to serve as an alternate.  After being in that position for about four years, I once again assured myself that I’d soon understand everything there was to know about transportation in our county.  When the fog cleared a bit and a position on the board opened, I applied.

Unfortunately, as soon as I was seated on the board, the federal and state legislation changed drastically and I was back to square one.  I found myself flipping through the pages sent to me before each meeting wishing I could decipher the complex verbage on which I was supposed to vote.  With every new administration, there are new laws and regulations that the local boards are supposed to miraculously comprehend.

Yet, in the past few years, I find myself understanding the discussions that swirl around my head.  No longer does the talk whiz over my head, it is now filtered through knowledge and history.  In fact, at a recent committee meeting, I found that I became the historian of the group, having served longer than anyone else.  My mind recalled facts and figures that surprised me.

At times, citizens are reluctant to become a part of the process because the issues are simply too complex.  And that is usually true at the beginning.  Even after years, of study and research, administrations and local issues change as well as the laws.  Then the learning process begins again…and again…and again.

Isn’t that like our lives, however?  As soon as I thought I had my husband all figured out, the Lord would do something different and I would be left scratching my head, wondering why he had changed.  Even in my own life, I wake up and find that during the night the Lord supernaturally answered a prayer and transformed my heart.  Or I read a book and God begins to speak to me about fears and concerns that have plagued my spirit since childhood, he makes my spirit responsive to his love and the Holy Spirit does a fresh work.

Different from the complex issues that we face with governance, God’s transformations are usually simple changes that transform our behaviors, attitudes and desires.  Paul was correct when he wrote to the Romans that laws and regulations cannot make transformational changes.  That is God’s job.

Several decades ago the local transportation provider was called CATS.  It was primarily used for people with disablilites and for the elderly.  It was primarily a provider for people who would later be classified as “transportation disadvantabed.”

Understanding the growth that would be coming to Brevard, the name was changed to Space Coast Area Transit, using the acronym SCAT.  However, it is now time for another change.  Indeed, as the transportation needs and services have increased, many people remain stuck in the idea that Space Coast Area Transit is still a provider for people with disabilities and the elderly.

Therefore, led by Jim Liesenfelt, County Transportation Coordinator, one of the changes that needs to be made is a transition from the perception of limited provision to a service that endeavors to meet the transporation needs of every citizen who desires to access public transportation.  Liesenfelt hopes that the name change from SCAT to Space Coast Area Transit will also alter the perception.

In reality, Space Coast Area Transit has become much more than a limited transit line.  It is now used primarily for working people who need a safe, convenient way to get to and from work.  In addition, there is a growing youth population who travel on the buses.

If you have a transportation need, it may be that Space Coast Area Transit may be able to meet that need.  Give the office a call at 321-633-1878.  Or visit their website at http://www.ridescat.com/.

 

During the past week, I’ve spent a lot of time riding the bus. I’m visiting my son in Oahu, Hawaii. They have one car which works great for them because his wife enjoys riding the bus. He has been working this week, giving his wife and me some quality time together.

“I was warned,” she told me, “that it wasn’t safe to ride the bus. However, there are mostly elderly folks and working people.” Because it is summer there is also a generous sprinkling of teenagers, eager to get to the ocean.

I serve as a Citizen Advocate on a county coordinating board in Brevard County Florida. Therefore, I am interested in seeing the operations of the bus systems wherever I go. In Oahu, people with disabilities primarily use HandiVan’s for their work transport. I also suspect that they have a system similar to Transportation Disadvantaged in Florida because I have not seen many folks with intellectual or developmental disabilities on the city buses.

Each time I go to another state and take the time to commute on the bus, I’m impressed with several things. First, the willingness of the bus drivers to help their passengers. I can’t imagine that anyone could get lost unless they are simply too shy to ask questions.

Second, I’m constantly pleased with the quality of bus riders. Of course, there are people from the lowest economic structure who are abusing/using drugs and alcohol on the buses but they are the exception, not the rule. When a tourist couple got on the bus asking the driver to take them to what the tourist guide had called the best “shrimp truck” on the North Shore. He assure them he would show them where to get off. However, the bus was filled with “locals” who were more than willing to give their expert advice. It was agreed by unanimous decree that the best shrimp wasn’t at the truck the tourist guide recommended but at a truck much closer and easier to find.

Third, the cleanliness of the buses. Sure, by the end of the day, dirt and trash has been tracked into the bus but isn’t that to be expected? Even though the Brevard County SCAT drivers sweep and clean their buses on a regular bases, the foot traffic in a place like Honolulu is much larger. This increases the potential for dirty buses. Yet, on a whole, even in a laid-back place like the Aloha state, clean buses are the rule, not the exception.

The fourth thing is purely personal. I don’t have to worry about the traffic. If there are cars everywhere, I can busy myself with other things–such as, catching up with Facebook or writing a blog entry. Riding the bus gives me permission to do things I would not ordinarily do. After all, I’m not driving. This would be wasted time for me if I were behind the wheel–so why not spend it doing something I enjoy like reading a book or guacking out the window at the scenery and the people.

Perhaps, like me you don’t normally ride the bus; but I recommend becoming one whenever you are a tourist or traveling in an unknown town. It’s a great adventure and a wonderful way to find the “very best shrimp truck.”

Jim Liesenfelt

Congratulations to Jim Liesenfelt and all those working at Space Coast Area Transit.  They have been named Top Transit Provider in Florida.

Click and Read more…

This is an email I received from Keith Heinly, coordinator of Brevard Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster.  Should you be interested in attending these meeting contact Heinley.  You may call him, email or simply attend the upcoming meeting.

Dear Agency and Faith-Based Representatives,

I am resending this email to the membership of the Brevard Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), other agencies, and to the local faith-based organizations. For those who may not be aware, the Brevard VOAD is a non-dues affiliation of agencies, churches, and other not for profit organizations. The affiliation is active during disaster pre-planning through post disaster support by acting as a clearinghouse for disaster assistance.

We are presently in the process of revitalizing the Brevard VOAD through the development of two task groups; the VOAD Membership Committee and the VOAD Operations Task Group.  During these meetings we discussed the need to recruit and train Emergency Support Function – 15 (ESF-15) volunteers to serve at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) before, during and after a disaster. Most of the training is completed online on the http://www.FEMA.gov web site. Volunteers will also receive E-Team software training provided by Brevard Emergency Management.  We also discussed the need to know who they will need to contact for specific requests such as debris removal, food assistance, clean-up kits, and installing tarps on roofs. During the meeting we identified many of those contacts, but we also identified some potential gaps in response.

We began developing a usable electronic database so that we can quickly access the names and the services needed. This database will be utilized at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) during times of disaster. They will need immediate data to provide the response necessary to reduce the loss of life and human suffering, and minimize property damage. I realize that many of you have sent paper applications in the past, but this is a format that will provide easier access and a quicker response. I am asking that each agency, individual, and faith-based organization take a few moments and complete the Brevard VOAD Disaster Network Information survey monkey at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/BVDN. As you know, providing accurate information and maintaining communication are extremely important elements in disaster response and recovery. I want to express my appreciation to those who have already responded.

Your participation is very important for an effective response to a disaster. There are benefits to your agency, church, or faith-based organizational as well. As an example, we can assist you in maximizing your potential for reimbursement for volunteer hours spent in response to a disaster. You will also benefit from the training and resources provided by participating agencies. Coordination, communication and education will foster cooperation from all of our local resources.

You do not need to be an active member of the Brevard VOAD in order to respond. But, if you wish to attend the meetings, they are held at the BCC Solar Energy Center 1679 Clearlake Road, Cocoa, Fl. on the second Thursday of each month at 9 AM. The next meeting of the Brevard VOAD will be July 14, 2011. We look forward to your participation.

If you have any questions or comments, please contact Keith Heinly at kheinly@uwbrevard.org

Thank You,

Keith Heinly/  Manager, Community Impact /  United Way of Brevard
 937 Dixon Blvd., Cocoa, FL 32922  /  tel: 321.631.2740 / fax: 321.631.2007 /http://www.uwbrevard.org  

           Several times a week, Diane Wibber catches public transit to travel from Rockledge to Titusville.  When she moved to Titusville three years ago, she did not want to give up her employment at Pizza Hut in Rockledge. Faced with the issue of how to get from North Brevard County to Central Brevard, Ms. Wibber knew she could trust Space Coast Area Transit to provide her with the rides she needed.  

            Even though Ms. Wibber is developmentally disabled, she quickly picked up the routine involved in getting to her work place.  SCAT, which is responsible for providing community transportation for all of Brevard County, has a bus stop close to her home.  Her drop off spot is only one block from her employer.  Like 44 percent of her fellow riders, on the days Wibber serves in the restaurant, she rides the bus to and from her job.

            On Fridays, Wibber saves the seat next to her for her pastor, Rev. Richard Stimson.  He boards the bus in Port St. Johns on his way to his Rockledge office.  During their 20 minute ride, Ms. Wibber and Stimson discuss upcoming or past events.  If the pastor is preoccupied with e-mails or answering phone messages, Ms. Wibber sits quietly, reading a book or enjoying the landscape.

            Only a year ago, this scenario of pastor and parishioner sharing a ride to work via a SCAT bus would have seemed improbable in Brevard County.  Of course, people with disabilities and the elderly have drawn on Space Coast Area Transit for decades.  Yet, it wasn’t until the fuel crisis of 2008 that professional men and women began to access the buses.

            With the advent of $4 a gallon gasoline and a renewed emphasis on conservation, people began searching for more affordable and greener ways to get to work.  It wasn’t hard to discover the fixed-route service offered by SCAT.  In a matter of weeks, ridership jumped 15 percent. 

            While this may have been expected during the oil dilemma, it was what happened after gas prices lowered that stunned everyone.  The rider census on the fixed routes didn’t dip. In fact, according to a published report prepared by Renaissance Planning Group, “SCAT continues to gain new ridership.” In a recent survey of 1,054 passengers conducted by the group, Renaissance found that 10 percent of the commuters surveyed were riding for the first time.

            Accessing SCAT is an economic option for Brevard residents heading for work.  Additionally, it is most exploited by those employees who need it the most.  The 2008 Rider Survey prepared for the Brevard Metropolitan Planning Organization by Renaissance reported three interesting facts.

            First, 76 percent of SCAT riders have an annual household income of $25,00 or less.  This is below the County’s median income.  Second, it was encouraging that a disproportionate number of the riders are younger–in the 25 to 44 age range compared to the County overall.  In addition, two thirds of the SCAT riders are employed, which suggests the same proportion probably use public transit for work.

            The ridership survey noted that improvements were needed in hours of service, frequency and travel time.  Two-thirds of the survey respondents identified “more frequent service” as the most glaring necessity.  In other words, the riders see more bus service in more places as the greatest public transit need.  Though there are continuing complaints about the lack of routes, the overall satisfaction of a majority of the travelers was “good” or “excellent.” Even the “route frequency” and “hours of service” categories received an overall rating of “OK” and “Good.”

            Always looking to learn more about Brevard County transit needs, Jim Liesenfelt, Transit Director, expressed the consensus sentiment revealed by the increasing number of riders SCAT has experienced even though oil prices have dropped.  Liesenfelt’s conclusion sums up the issue, “These continuing increases confirm that there is a demand out there for some basic level of transit that we are just now beginning to provide.”