A tale of two counties: public transit woes in Poinciana.

As cars become more expensive to maintain in a weak economy and at a time of high gas prices, is there enough public transportation available to meet the needs of commuters in Poinciana? (Photo by Michael Freeman).

POINCIANA – For a community like Poinciana, which is divided between two counties, establishing a uniform public transit policy can be a major challenge, to say the least.
John Lewis, the chief executive officer of the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which operates the Lynx bus system, fully understands this. Poinciana’s 10 villages are divided between Osceola County, with 52,000 residents, and Polk County, with 31,000 residents, and Lewis said he would like to have a program in place where residents on both sides get a reliable public transit system.
But the problem, as Lewis noted, is that “Transit is not a for-profit business,” meaning private companies don’t operate bus systems in a state where most people get around in their car.
Instead, “We are a quasi-government agency,” meaning one funded by the county governments in the counties where Lynx offers bus routes.
And when Lewis addressed the members of the civic group Poinciana Residents for Smart Change, during the group’s regular meeting at the Poinciana Library on April 20, he was asked whether Lynx was connected with Polk County.
Quite simply, Lewis responded, “We are not.”
That’s a problem since Poinciana residents have to deal with two separate county governments, said Keith Laytham, the president of PRSC.
“We have the privilege of spanning two counties,” he said.
The Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority is owned by the governments in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, and even with a coverage area in just those three counties, “We are larger than the state of Delaware,” Lewis said. “Being a quasi-government agency, we are set up to provide service to all three counties. My weakness is we don’t have a dedicated funding source.”
That means expanding service outside the three-county area is difficult, if not impossible, on the current Lynx budget, he said.
Lynx does provides some bus routes on the Poinciana side of Polk County, Lewis noted, but they were only able to do that when Polk County provided the funding to Lynx to make it happen.
“We’re working together,” Lewis said. “We are a contractor. We can only contract to what the local governments provide. We do provide some service to Polk County. We provide some routes and the county pays for that. Many times we make proposals, and say we could provide this route here, but at the end of that, it’s up to Polk County to fund it.”
The 31,000 residents living on the Polk County side of Poinciana now have two pick up bus routes, the 601 and 603.
Polk Transit, the county’s transportation planning agency, has proposed more service there, assuming the funding becomes available.
Annette Brown-Best, a member of PRSC, said part of the problem is that if residents of Poinciana-Polk request more pick up service, it gets cut from routes in Osceola – essentially pitting one side of Poinciana against another. This is exactly what happened when Lynx began sending pick-up vans to the Solivita development on the Polk County side, following repeat calls from residents there.
“The Lynx going into Solivita was never supposed to happen,” Brown-Best said. “It came about from people calling and asking for that.”
Lewis said he’s well aware there’s growing demand for increased public transit on both sides of Poinciana, as a rough economy and high gas prices are impacting residents’ ability to maintain a car, and that it’s inadequate to provide only feeder routes to Polk County’s residents.
“As ridership grows, we will move from that to a fixed route,” he said.
But again, he stressed, much of that depends on having the money to do it.

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