Public Transportation Activists Reorganize

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The Sustainable Transportation Coalition, a joint city-College effort to improve public transportation in Oberlin and Lorain County, established a new branch last month.

The Sustainable Transportation Action Team is a group of nine students who takes ideas generated by the STC and researches their feasibility by examining the history of transportation in Oberlin and Lorain County.

The STC grew out of several separate groups that were meeting to work on public transportation, including the Student Sen- ate’s public transit working group. The coalition began to meet at the beginning of this semester and includes Oberlin students, Kendal at Oberlin residents and members of the Oberlin City Council, Oberlin Project and Oberlin Community Services.

STAT co-founder Aaron Appel, a former student senator and College junior, has spent much of his Oberlin career working and speak- ing with members of Oberlin’s larger community.

“I feel like the issue of public transportation always comes up in some capacity, whether it’s people at Kendal needing to fill a prescription, people at community meals needing to get to a job, [or Oberlin Community Services] getting people to come in for food distributions because there’s no transit stop nearby,” Appel said. “It’s everywhere, even in a small community like ours.”

While the Action Team is tech- nically a Student Senate working group, it is no longer a Senate- driven initiative. Rather, Senate now takes more of a sponsorship role.

Appel became involved in public transit through the Senate working group, which he chaired last spring. Appel and Sharon Pearson, City Council member and program coordinator at the Oberlin Project, worked together to broaden the efforts of the working group.

“[The working group] started to expand, and we changed the name to Sustainable Transportation Working Group to get more kinds of transportation into the conversation,” Appel said.

The team came together at what several group members believe to be a potential turning point in Lorain transportation history. With a possible ballot initiative proposing to increase the number of county commissioners from three to seven next year, some fear that transportation would largely be forgotten.

“As [that] becomes more of an issue, people will be talking about public transportation less and less,” said Ohio PIRG organizer and team member Neil Button.

The proposal would increase the number of rural representatives on the county commission, who may have less of an interest in paying for public transportation since transit systems would offer little benefit to their rural constituents.

“There have been Lorain County residents that have been working on the public transportation issues for three years, and we believe we only have one more shot at a levy that will financially support a viable transportation system, as the county has attempted a levy two times already,” said Pearson. “Our fear is the discussion for reforming county government will overshadow the transportation discussion.”

Pearson is hoping that STAT and the coalition will be able to generate momentum that will be instrumental in passing a levy to support public transit in Lorain County. The next two years offer a window of opportunity for public transit in the county because Commissioner-elect Matt Lundy will be serving his first term. Lundy, a current state representative, is a big supporter of public transportation.

However, transportation is not the only concern. By focusing on sustainability, the coalition intends to broaden the conversation about transit to include means of transportation other than driving.

“The Oberlin community is committed to becoming a positive climate community by 2050 through reducing our carbon emissions [to] below zero,” Pearson said. “We are on track to meet this goal and will be reducing our carbon emissions by 50 percent by [the end of 2015] because our energy portfolio is moving toward 85 percent renewable energy. However, by doing so, our carbon emissions from transportation will increase unless we begin to shift to alternative modes of transportation that reduce carbon emissions. Also, walking, biking and public transit are healthier choice[s] than driving alone.”

In addition to researching the ideas generated by the coalition, STAT works to promote public transportation by distributing the Transportation Guide and highlighting existing systems. Examples include the Oberlin Connector and Shopping shuttle, along with sustainable transportation alternatives such as biking and carpooling.

In setting up STAT, Appel and Button decided to reach out specifically to first- and second-year students. Appel, who has worked with various student organizations since his first year, has repeatedly found that student organizations have a difficult time with institutional memory. They wanted to avoid that problem in the first couple of years it takes STAT to get going.

“The goal is that this semester we create a cohesive team of very excited and interested individuals. They’ve been phenomenal people, primarily first- and second-years,” said Appel.

College first-year Renwick Wilson said he joined the team because “transportation is a huge part of building a sustainable future.”

As operations manager and outreach coordinator, Wilson has been working on a survey of the student body “to find out what people think about current modes of transportation, and what their habits are.” According to Wilson, for STAT, being successful would mean being able to “raise aware- ness and enact change in the community.”

Button said that short-term success for STAT would be to keep the conversation about transportation alive.

“We want public transportation to be something that is talked about more in the state of Ohio and in Lorain County specifically,” said Button.

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