PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

June 3, 2013

PA Transit center near completion

Sherry Koonce
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — James Fontenot doesn’t own a car, but the lack of transportation doesn’t stop him from going to and fro.

The 49-year-old is one of about 400 to 500 Port Arthur residents who take advantage of the city’s public transportation system each month.

“It sure beats walking,” he said.

Fontenot rides the bus — sometimes to his girlfriend’s house, sometimes to the Jefferson City Shopping Center, or other places — about twice a week.

Not only is the bus ride convenient and comfortable, it’s affordable, he said.

A typical trip costs either $1 or $2, depending if the rider makes transfers from one bus to another.

Debra Ambroise, Port Arthur Transit Authority planner, would like to see more people utilize the public transportation system, especially since the entire facility is under going drastic renovations.

When completed, the city’s Transit Authority will span a two-block area running from Front Street across from City Hall to Procter Street.

Crews are putting the finishing touches on a newly-renovated Transit Authority Service Center, while construction workers across the street are preparing to build an Auto Scrubber facility to automatically wash Transit vehicles.

At the same time the city has purchased what was the old Mandel furniture store on Procter Street, behind the Service Center and adjacent to the bus terminal, for a new administration building.

Administrative offices are currently housed in the Service Center, but will move into the new administrative building when it is completed, Ambroise said.

It’s been 50 or 60 years since the Service Center  was built, and about that long since any significant improvements were made.

The new service center has additional square footage, and was made wheelchair assessable.

Service Center renovations costs, about $700,000, were funded through a federal grant, excluding the city’s match portion.

At an expected cost of about $800,000, the auto-scrubber should be completed by the end of September,  Ambroise said.

The automatic wash facility will be used for all transit vehicles, but cannot be utilized for any other city vehicles.

Existing Transit Authority maintenance crews will operate the auto-scrubber.

Right now, crews hand-wash Transit buses and paratransit vans by hand — a practice that is not in compliance with federal laws.

“The federal government requires that vehicle  washing be automated, and be performed two-to-three times a week, or more if it rains.

The latest upgrades will complement a new Propane Center completed in December 2010.

The city’s Transit Authority is also looking at purchasing an entire new fleet of buses to replace those grounded last year. At the time, because the city’s bus fleet was plagued with mechanical problems, the Federal Transit Administration grounded the fleet.

Ambroise estimated it would be about six months before litigation surrounding the grounded buses will be settled, and a new fleet is purchased.

In the meantime, Port Arthur is leasing a fleet of 10 buses from the city of New Orleans.

By the time the city has a new fleet, Ambroise said she hopes ridership is up. The Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission is in the process of conducting a survey to determine if there is enough interest to expand bus routes to areas where there is none now, such as new subdivisions in Port Acres.

“We certainly want to encourage more people to ride,” Ambroise said.

In addition to busses, disabled persons can take advantage of  the city’s fleet of smaller paratransit vans, Ambroise said.

All of the facility upgrades are funded by Federal Transit Administration grant dollars, though the city is required to fund its match portion.

The Transit Authority’s annual budget of about $3 million is funded by the Federal Transit Administration.

Email: skoonce@panews.com

Twitter: @skooncepa