NW Valley Connect plans expansion to transit

The number of service calls has grown to more than 10,000 in just four years. Two-thirds of those calls are from the Sun Cities.

By Roger Ball
Independent Newsmedia

As it moves forward to new and expanded services, Northwest Valley Connect officials want to be sure residents know that transit is not the same as transportation.

For a few years NVC officials coordinated and provided rides to residents in the Northwest Valley who were not able to drive themselves. Now they are moving to the next step, planning to provide a regular transit system for the area that provides residents with a regional transit system that connects with the Valley-Wide system.

Kenneth Green is with a Northwest Valley Connect van equipped to handle wheelchairs.

Organization leaders said they can easily prove there is a need for these services.

In 2014 their mobility center handled 288 calls. That jumped nearly 1500 calls in 2015, more than double that in 2016 and more than 10,000 calls in 2017. 66 percent of those calls are from the Sun Cities.

Northwest Valley Connect Executive Director Kathryn Chandler said they have begun a process to determine the best systems for the future.

“The Maricopa Association of Governments and Valley Metro loaned a planner to help NVC better study the community needs and offer possible solutions,” she said.

One possible way to better increase and improve ways to provide better transit service is a series of regularly scheduled circulator routes, Ms. Chandler said. Circulators can be used by anyone.

Another option to be studied involves deviated fixed routes.  Ms. Chandler said people with special needs who live within a certain distance of fixed routes can arrange in advance for pickups at their homes.

Ms. Chandler said Dist 21 Rep. Kevin Payne (R-Peoria) obtained a grant of $65,000 to put together an intergovernmental coalition of communities in the northwest Valley region to work together in developing a transit plan. There is no regular transit offered in the northwest Valley communities. District 21 Sen Rick Gray (R-Sun City) is putting together a coalition of legislators and other elected officials west of Interstate 17 to work together on this issue.

NVC Board Member Sharon Hettick said one reason the need for transit is growing is the increasing number of people who aren’t comfortable driving—especially long distances to go shopping, medical appointment or to visit friends.

The city of Surprise began a study of transit needs in that community. Many of the routes they are studying also involve parts of Sun City West.

PORA Vice President Larry Anderson expressed satisfaction that Surprise was part of the NVC discussion, since currently there are no regular bus routes west of Arrowhead Mall.

“Any system that serves the Sun Cities would have to use Bell Road, which is important to both Sun Cities,” Mr. Anderson said.“The next step in transit for our area will need to provide a system that is comfortable, attractive, easy and accessible.”

Both PORA and SCHOA are active participants in the planning process, Ms. Hettick said.

“Sun City West is a great place to live with a multitude of activities unless one is unable to drive,” said Jim Sloan, vice president of the Sun City West Recreation Center board.

“Currently no practical mode exists to get to where activities or shopping occur. A convenient means of internal transport connecting to regional transit would open up new possibilities for residents.”

Ms. Chandler said they frequently get calls from people who are concerned about their adult parents continued ability to drive and hope a new transit system comes into being soon.

One major issue in planning for transit is how will it be funded. Most municipalities use a sales tax for that, but the Sun Cities are unincorporated and a sales tax increase would probably have to be approved by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and be county wide.

The study is expected to be completed in early 2019.

Roger Ball can be contacted at 623-876-2523 or rball@newszap.com.

Visit www.NorthwestValleyConnect.org


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