Com­mis­sioner can­di­dates of­fer thoughts on trans­porta­tion

Kent County News - - NEWS - By DANIEL DIVILIO ddivilio@thekent­coun­tynews.com

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.

PHOTOS BY JACK RODGERS

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.

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