Bus fire disproportionately affects homeless community
FAYETTEVILLE — Ozark Regional Transit officials say they hope, if all goes well, to have all their bus routes back up and running by Tuesday.
“I’m still aggressively pushing for Tuesday at 100 percent,” said Joel Gardner, executive director of ORT. “I won’t be disappointed if we don’t make that, but I won’t be surprised if we do. It’s an aggressive goal and I think we can do it.”
An early morning fire Tuesday destroyed 20 of the transit provider’s 26 buses, leaving only two serviceable. Four buses undergoing repair were spared from the blaze. The cause of the fire and the cost of the damage hasn’t been determined.
Loaner buses have been rolling in ever since the fire. Gardner said he’s sending eight drivers to Wichita, Kan., today and two to Pine Bluff to pick up vehicles. A bus en route from Kentucky is also expected to arrive today.
“We are rapidly putting this thing together so we can have service in a very short period of time,” Gardner said. “I think the only thing that’s going to prevent 100 percent service on the road is how many daylight hours we can put in on maintenance. We have to do a final check before we can release them out on the road.”
The transit service ran two routes Wednesday and Thursday and will add six routes today. ORT usually runs 14 routes daily and none on weekends.
Solomon Burchfield, director of operations at 7 Hills Homeless Center, said the loss of bus service is having a ripple effect that’s negatively impacting many of his clients.
The number of people eating meals at the center Wednesday and Thursday was down, indicating some people aren’t able to get to 7 Hills by bus who normally do, Solomon said. Several individuals have re-scheduled medical appointments because of lack of transportation and one woman who’s looking for work came in for help in finding potential employers close enough to the center that she could walk.
Burchfield said some clients are making use of the more limited Razorback Transit system routes where possible.
Pamela Palasty made it to 7 Hills on Thursday but said the lack of bus service is a problem for her and others in the homeless community.
“It’s meant a lot for me. I’m looking for a job and the only thing I can apply for is locally. I don’t have a bus to ride, first to apply and then, second, to take the bus to work. That’s the ultimate plan,” Palasty said. “It was a shocking awakening on how much we depend on the bus system just to do our daily lives. We really do seek better and we use the buses to get around to do that. We can’t change our lives unless we can get to jobs.”
Palasty said she and others depend on the bus to get to medical appointments and other necessary places, especially when it’s cold and there is rain or snow. The forecast is for rain through Tuesday.
“We’ve talked about how it’s going to effect us and we’re at a standstill almost because a lot of us, myself for example, I have an appointment next week at Ozark Guidance,” Palasty said. “Obviously I have no ride and that’s kind of the general thing. People, they do go forward but with no bus it’s like it has shut everything down.”
Palasty said people who usually would take the bus have turned to asking for rides from friends or relatives until service is restored.
“We’ve depended on the very few who have a vehicle and it’s very few,” Palasty said. “Me. I don’t have any friends or relatives here but I’m going to try to get a ride to my appointment.”
Palasty said she and others learned the buses had burned watching local news Tuesday morning.
“It was a shock for the first day. Everyone was just like a deer in the headlights. It’s affected everyone,” Palasty said. “I can’t tell you how much we depend on the buses. We really appreciate the buses so it will be a real happy day when we have a bus again.”