Seniors speak out on reduced transit service

By Tony Parra

Several community members voiced their displeasure about the Portales Area Transit system not giving rides on Mondays during a public forum on Tuesday.

Twila Hurley of the Portales Area Transit system said they stopped giving rides on Mondays approximately a year ago because of rising gasoline prices and budget constraints.

“I don’t believe that gas prices caused it (Monday service) to stop,” Gwendolyn Plexico of Portales said. “I think they’re taking more and more away from our seniors. You can’t find out without asking questions.”

Plexico, whose mother, Mildred Plexico, uses the PAT system, said she knows of senior citizens who were unable to get rides on Mondays because of PAT officials’ decisions.

Jim Good, director of the Senior Citizens Center in Portales, gave the Plexicos a solution — call the Senior Citizen Center for a ride.

“Please, if you are a senior and need a ride give us a call,” Good said. He said they offer rides for senior citizens from Monday to Friday. “If you need to set up a time, give us a call.”

The PAT drivers offer rides for everybody from Tuesday through Friday, if someone needs a ride at a specific time, PAT officials ask they call 24 hours in advance.

“We did not want to do that (cut Mondays),” Hurley said. “If we can, it’s the first thing we’ll add.”

Linda Trujillo of the New Mexico Department of Transportation suggested the organization of a public transportation advisory committee comprised of public transportation officials and community members. Gwendolyn Plexico said she signed up to be on the committee.

Bettie Miller, a Portales senior, said she used to use the PAT system every day.

“I still depend on it,” Miller said. “I would be willing to spend 25 cents for a ride.”

Trujillo asked the people who attended the public forum on Tuesday evening how many people would be willing to pay a small portion for a ride. Miller said she uses van rides to make visits to the doctor’s office and organization meetings.

Many of those in attendants were senior citizens of the community, the majority of PAT users. Hurley said about 75 percent of the users of the PAT system are senior citizens. Hurley said they give rides to 50-to-65 people a day. According to Hurley, 900 people were given rides in the month of January.

Trujillo said the ability to provide public transportation services is on federal and local government money. She said $62,000 from the city of Portales helps in matching funds with federal money to provide a total of $159,500 for PAT.

She said residents need to voice their need for public transportation to area legislators and New Mexico politicians and have them support House Bill 595 to create a transit fund. HB 595 is relating to taxation, creating the transit fund from a percentage of a motor vehicle tax. Appropriating 3.5 percent of the total net receipts would create $4.585 million for the fund each year, according to the bill.

Hurley said there has also been a need for a route for Eastern New Mexico University students. She said many of them do not realize the PAT system is at their disposal.
“We need bus stops,” Hurley said. “We need signs, shelters to protect them from the wind and sun. We need bus stop signs in town to let college students know.”

The phone number for the Senior Citizen Center is 356-8741, for Los Abuelitos de La Casa de Buena Salud the number is 356-5056 and for PAT the number is 356-5101.