City Council approves Lash Drive bus service
By Emily Ford
SALISBURY - The persistence of Lash Drive residents paid off Tuesday when City Council approved daily bus service to the low-income neighborhood about a mile west of the Salisbury Mall.
"If there's ever a neighborhood that needs transit service, this is one," Councilwoman Maggie Blackwell said.
Blackwell has advocated for Lash Drive since she heard residents four years ago ask City Council for bus service. Blackwell wasn't on the council at the time but listened to the plea from the audience.
"You really reached my heart on that day," she said Tuesday.
Lash Drive has six housing complexes, including two nursing homes and two senior facilities. About 1,200 people live in the high-density community, and the population is expected to grow.
In the past, Lash Drive residents have had to walk a mile to Salisbury Mall, the last stop on the route, to catch the bus. And then walk home.
"It's hard to carry groceries," said Robert Harper, an Army veteran who moved to Lash Drive a year ago with his mother and sister. "I've been carrying a lot of groceries."
In 2010, the city added a connector service that took residents to the mall on Tuesdays and Thursdays to catch the big bus. But many people thought the shuttle van was only for elderly people, and ridership averaged 13 per day at a cost of $20 per rider.
The cost of the adding daily bus service to Lash Drive has been prohibitive until now. In 2009, the city estimated sending service to Lash Drive six days a week would cost between $144,731 and $180,914 in mileage and gas.
Transit director Rodney Harrison said Tuesday his team found a way to add the service without raising costs by increasing the time between stops on all three routes to make bus service more dependable.
Bus service will be reduced to Tinseltown, Salisbury Mall, VA Medical Center, Rowan Regional Medical Center and Department of Social Services and increased to the Employment Security Commission, Rufty-Holmes Senior Center and city's Customer Service Center.
Rowan-Cabarrus Community College will have fewer stops total but additional service in early the morning and evening.
Bus service to Lash Drive is projected to begin in late January.
Matthew Shoaf said the service will help connect isolated Lash Drive residents to the rest of Salisbury.
"We have a wide range of people who want to be part of a bigger community," Shoaf said.
The bus will allow them to participate in downtown events and everything else the city has to offer, he said.
"They would love to be a part of this town," Shoaf said.
Archie Reed, activity director at Laurel Point Apartments, said the new service will improve the quality of life for people during harsh economic times.
Sarah Huntley, a Vietnam War veteran and Lash Drive resident, said many elderly people in the neighborhood can't drive, and many young residents can't afford cars.
With bus service, they "can get out and do things outside the neighborhood," Huntley said.
Community activist William Peoples said he hopes the Lash Drive extension will eventually lead to bus service to the Salisbury Community Park on Hurley School Road. Peoples said City Council promised a bus to the park 10 years ago.
"I will hold you to it," Peoples said. "I'm going to be like a tiger. I'm going to be on you."
Overall, city bus ridership was up by 10,000 riders in 2011 over the previous year, Harrison said. It costs $1 to ride the bus, or 50 cents for elderly or disabled passenger.
The city recently repaved Lash Drive, one of seven streets to benefit from a penny property tax increase this year for paving.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.