Truck traffic prohibited on the local street

The adage that the gears of government move slowly is a common complaint. For some, however, the gears moved too fast and will now leave other gears and axles still, with some residents as well.

Last Monday, two citizens spoke at the Surry County Board of Commissioners meeting. Scott Needham and Rachel Collins, both commissioners themselves from Pilot Mountain, were there to speak as individuals and not as city officials. They did it knowing what many others did not know, the end is near.

They both stood up with articulate arguments against Surry County’s decision to leave PART, the Piedmont Regional Transportation Authority, which oversees intercounty commuter transportation for ten counties in that region.

“The need for rural public transport has always been linked to mobility and accessibility to jobs, essential goods and services for the elderly, low-income people and people with disabilities. I think it’s an important piece of equipment for people and new businesses coming to our city,” Collins said.

Unbeknownst to speakers at previous meetings who have risen to make similar objections, what Commissioner Eddie Harris once called a “divorce” is much closer to completion than to its beginning.

PART Route 6 will cease operations after Friday, June 30 – federally funded Park & ​​Ride lots at King and Mount Airy, as well as double lots at Pilot Mountain will remain inactive.

There may be a silver lining for the King lot, but for those in Pilot Mountain and Mount Airy, if the county no longer wishes to levy the car rental tax and has previously rejected a car registration tax to cover the county contribution – there is no recourse.

“We had discovered it very recently within the last two weeks,” Collins confirmed on Wednesday. “I got an email from PART because I was a runner in the past. He said on that email it was late June.

A date not chosen arbitrarily, but which coincides with the end of the fiscal year to put a quick end to a divorce that almost no one saw coming.

Launched in 2005, PART was intended to ease the pressure of excess cars on the road, provide easier access for those without a vehicle or license, and help with the inflated cost of essence. Needham himself recalled that during the George W. Bush years when the program was started, “Gasoline prices were high then, we thought. They are really high now.

Serious discussion about the transportation authority began in the fall when a PART grant application reached the commissioners. The council has been asked to give approval for PART to seek more federal dollars to expand bus services along Route 6, The Surry County Express.

The council declined to give permission for the grant application to go ahead, then began a discussion about the county’s participation in the authority. The council noted lower ridership, an additional sales tax on rental cars, and that moving citizens out of the county for work can hurt local economies as reasons not to spend more federal dollars. for a service they felt was not as efficient as it had once been.

They sought advice, which the county attorney, in conjunction with PART’s legal counsel, communicated. In response, PART drafted a resolution asking the council to reconsider its exit from authority and sent its envoy, Scott Rhine, to the February 21 council meeting. The resulting question-and-answer session did not change their minds and the board moved on.

PART quietly released the following in early March:

“On February 21, 2022, the Surry County Board of Commissioners took action at the scheduled meeting of the County Board of Commissioners by a unanimous vote to withdraw its membership of the Piemont Authority for Regional Transportation (PART). The county has requested that their membership be removed from PART by June 30, 2022.

“This release is a first public notification that the PART Express Route 6 service will no longer operate, effective July 1, 2022….

“The Surry County Board of Commissioners’ decision to withdraw their membership from PART directly impacts PART’s territorial jurisdiction and prevents PART from operating the PART Express service in Surry County.” It is this language that is the nail in the coffin of Route 6.

A common objection to PART was that ridership had dropped significantly over the past few years, but Needham told the board he had spoken to Rhine since the board voted to leave. and that he had been told that the number of users was increasing. Collins suggested the best way to improve ridership is to provide more stops, a point Rhine had made weeks earlier.

Sending workers to other counties to work, Needham countered: “I heard that we may be shipping our employees out of the county, if that’s the case – these employees then take those dollars and bring them home. them in Surry County where they improve their property which we benefit with the property tax. Plus, they’re spending that money here in our county employing people here.

“It happened so fast,” Collins pointed out. “By canceling, you take away opportunities, not only for low-income people and those who don’t have a driver’s license, but for everyone else in our city. We are providing a service to these voters now that they don’t may not be able to go elsewhere.

She went on to note that federal taxpayer dollars will continue to fund PART whether Surry County is a member or not. “We don’t want to lose to Greensboro and High Point. We are going to pay for a service that we no longer get.

“Our citizens within the city limits pay double taxes, so I would say we pay a lot to the county for services we don’t use. I don’t dispute that,” she continued. I don’t have school-aged children, but my taxes go to the school system.”

Needham grasps the issue of taxation: “My tax rates are not going to go down, and nobody else’s taxes here are going to go down if we don’t have this service, but we won’t have the service.

For Collins, it’s more than dollars and cents and it was a very personal matter, as she recounted using the Winston-Salem Cancer Treatment Access Service. “From November 2019 to April 2021, I was on chemo. Personally, I was happy that the PART bus was there.

“The bus stopped right in front of the cancer center so I had the flexibility to go to my treatments and if someone came to pick me up I didn’t have to have them drive me back and forth. . The buses were clean, well maintained and ran on time.

“Although you personally have never needed or wanted to use public transport, there are plenty in our area who do.”

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