Commissioner candidates offer thoughts on transportation
CHESTERTOWN — Low ridership numbers and long routes make public transportation in a rural county like Kent a challenge.
In a comprehensive report released early this year, the United Way of Kent County identified public transportation as a crucial issue that needs to be addressed. That report led the Greater Chestertown Initiative, a coalition of local organization and business leaders, to raise the issue with the slate of candidates running this year of Kent County commissioner.
Earlier this year, the GCI posed a series of question to the candidates, as all three seats on the board of commissioners are on the ballot. In addition to transportation, the GCI questionnaire asked about economic development, schools, the hospital in Chestertown and racial inclusivity.
The Kent County News is providing the candidates’ answers to the GCI’s questions relating to each topic over the coming weeks. In addition, the candidates’ full, unedited answers are attached to each story on www.thekentcountynews.com.
This week, the focus is on public transportation.
“The United Way of Kent County recently prioritized transportation as a top need in the county. What ideas do you have to increase accessible and affordable trans- portation throughout the county? How will you create public/private partnerships to address this issue? How will you reach out to other rural jurisdictions to study their plans?” the GCI asked.
Democratic challenger Tom Timberman, an international business consultant, said he looked into the county’s public transportation provider Delmarva Community Transit. He said apparent dissatisfaction with DCT stems from its primary focus being on Easton and Cambridge.
“Kent’s schedule is quite limited and is based on infrequent travel. In terms of going to work or appointments in Kent or another county or Chesapeake College, the schedules are too sparse,” he wrote in response to the GCI. “I believe this is a good niche local entrepreneurs could fill with a business plan focused on travel within Kent County, but with scheduled extensions to Centreville, Chesapeake College and Easton.”
Noting the aging population’s need for non-emergency transportation to health appointments, Timberman proposed a system modeled after the private “dollar vans” in New York City that provide transportation in neighborhoods with reduced access to mass transit. He said another option if for local governments to invest in a joint venture.
Republican incumbent and local business owner Bill Short recognizes that mass transportation is a “hard task” in a rural county.
“Kent County citizens currently have many options available to them for transportation, whether it be for medical needs or other reasons. A larger focus needs to be placed on reaching those in the community who need this service but who are not taking advantage of the current offerings,” he wrote, noting his efforts to ensure funding for DCT and the Kent Family Center, which also offers public transportation.
Short said additional options available in the county include Uber and taxi service. He also is seeking a partnership with Queen Anne’s County’s transit program for additional offerings in Kent County.
“I also think a trolley system in the Chestertown area would be a great public private partnership that would benefit not only citizens but tourist and local businesses,” Short wrote.
Incumbent Democrat William Pickrum, who works in the Delaware Office of Budget and Management, suggested temporarily bolstering the current bus system with subsidies while more substantial service offerings are developed. He also recommends establishing a citizens commission to look into service needs and conducting a comprehensive survey seeking responses from a more diverse demographic.
In looking at public-private partnerships, Pickrum said federal, state and local funds should be used to establish a local bus system. He also wants to partner with the Queen Anne’s transit system and encourage the Delaware Transit Corp. to put a terminus in Millington.
Pickrum said the county staff has been charged with studying transportation issues. He said he also would use his position as vice president of the Maryland Association of Counties to address the issue, as he will become president of the organization that serves as a lobbying group for county governments if re-elected to the commissioners.
“Being able to travel is an important part of our lives. Kent County is a small county with limited resources and as such cannot provide a public transport system,” wrote Tom Mason, a farmer and Republican challenger in this year’s race, in response to the GCI’s questionnaire.
Mason said the county should continue to support DCT, while looking for an entrepreneur or private business to start a transportation service. He said he would ensure regulations and restrictions do not prevent such an endeavor from launching.
“It is my belief that if there is a need and it makes sense from a business aspect, it will happen,” Mason wrote.
Republican challenger and local business owner Bob Jacob said all public transportation is heavily subsidized by taxpayers. He said local taxpayers would have to decide how much they are willing to subsidize such services out of their paychecks.
“Transportation in Rural America is and always will be a challenge. I am sure this matter has been studied by many millions of people around the world for centuries. The first thing we would need to do is determine what kind of public transportation we are talking about,” Jacob wrote in response to the GCI.
Jacob wrote about how the Rock Hall trams offer transportation around town during the summer. He said there could be bus routes between Kent County’s incorporated municipalities, as well as points beyond county lines like Easton or Middletown, Del.
“I would follow this up with a survey and a business plan to show the tax payers ( sic) the cost,” Jacob wrote, noting that, in the meantime, the county can continue its partnership with DCT.
Incumbent Democrat and Rock Hall Town Manager Ron Fithian wrote about DCT is primarily funded by state and federal grants. He said the county provides in the area of $100,000 annually for DCT to provide services for Kent County residents.
Fithian said the costs to launch a new transportation project would be monumental. Rather, he wants to have a meeting with DCT that includes local seniors and those representing seniors to talk about problems and work on possible solutions.
“I’ve found people sitting around, rolling up their sleeves, sitting around talking, a lot of times that can make a great deal of difference. I’m hopeful that instead of throwing the system out that we have and losing the state and federal money and starting from scratch, I think we need to build on what we already have. And there is plenty of room to grow. It’s not a perfect system by no imagination,” Fithian wrote.
The election is Nov. 6. Early voting runs Oct. 25 through Nov. 1.
The candidates for Kent County commissioner are, top row from left, Ron Fithian, Bob Jacob and Tom Mason, bottom row from left, William Pickrum, Bill Short and Tom Timberman.