Smithfield: Opinion

Let’s talk about transit

The Johnston County Area Transit System, or JCATS for short, is not a public transit system in the familiar sense of the term. It has no fixed routes on which people wait at bus stops for a ride to work, the grocery store or doctor’s office.

Instead, JCATS is essentially a contract transportation provider for human service agencies like the Johnston County Department of Social Services. JCATS makes up routes daily based on where that day’s agency ridership lives. Members of the general public ride only if JCATS happens to be passing by their house.

Not surprisingly, not every who wants a JCATS ride gets one. Among rural transit systems in North Carolina, only one other agency says no to more requests than JCATS, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation.

That’s not necessarily a criticism of JCATS, which is reaching as many riders as it can with the dollars it has. But when the public can’t ride public transportation, that’s a problem the county needs to address.

What Johnston needs is a serious discussion about public transportation: How much public transit do we want and how much are taxpayers and riders willing to pay for it?

Granted, it’s a little more complicated than that. Those human service agencies – Social Services and others – will not want to cede seats to the general public, and JCATS will not want to give up any of those agency dollars. And don’t expect Johnston towns to support public transit financially unless JCATS establishes fixed, regular routes in towns and between them.

But Johnston is a growing county with a growing need for transit. Stories in this newspaper have shown that need, especially among people who can’t drive because of physical impairments. Johnston County can do better, and that effort should begin with a discussion about public transportation.

We’d encourage County Commissioners to make that discussion a New Year’s resolution.