Creating better public transportation between Williams, Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon was the topic of a Sept. 17 transit workshop.
About 10 people attended the meeting in the Williams City Council chambers to brainstorm ideas for getting from one place to another.
The meeting comes after the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) awarded a grant to the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority (NAIPTA) and the Economic Collaborative of Northern Arizona (ECoNA) last year. The grant seeks to support economic development through improved public transit services for a Williams-Flagstaff-Grand Canyon transit corridor.
"We realize that transportation is playing an important role in the economy, especially in a small community," said Charles Rutkowski, assistant director of CTAA.
The transit planning project had originally included Winslow, but the Grand Canyon was substituted when planners realized Winslow already has a transportation study in place.
Rutkowski started the workshop by asking participants about the unmet mobility needs in the corridor. Attendees said they would like to see public transportation within Williams, as well as between Williams, Flagstaff and Tusayan, for work, medical care, education, shopping, entertainment and access to the airport.
Participants also suggested residents of Ash Fork, Seligman and Valle may benefit from improved public transportation.
The workshop attendees indicated people need to travel every day, although one participant said service could be scaled down in the winter when fewer tourists visit the area.
"It's interesting that most of you had every day, seven days a week," Rutkowski said. "I think that reflects the unique character of the demand here."
Rutkowski added that most transportation programs have reduced service on weekends.
When asked about the times of day people need the transportation, answers varied from all day long to between the hours of about 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. One participant suggested service was most needed in the morning and evening business hours, from about 6 to 10 a.m. and about 2 to 6 p.m.
Next, Rutkoswski asked participants to discuss any barriers that might hinder public transportation within the corridor. Responses included money to establish the transit service as well as the cost to the user. Attendees also named weather as a potential barrier. Another concern was people who live far away from the transportation route gaining access to it.
"Lower population densities are more difficult to serve because the distances are greater," Rutkowski said. "We've seen sustainable, successful transit programs in smaller communities than this."
The workshop concluded with participants coming up with solutions for their transit needs and prioritizing them. The best solution was to start small by expanding existing transit services within the corridor. The next solution, which participants said should be considered in tandem with the first, was to secure funding through grants, partnerships or a tax district. The third solution was to establish a transit system between Williams, Tusayan and Flagstaff about twice a day. Another idea was to establish a light rail line between the three areas.
Rutkowski said he'd pass on the ideas from the workshop to the project consultants.
"We haven't solved any problems here today, but I think we've at least focused on what some of the needs are and maybe where we need to go," he said. "It's important to know what people want, but what they want does not always equal the kinds of service that they will use."
Rutkowski added that the consultants will consider some quantitative data as well and hope to come up with some specific strategies by November.