POINCIANA – A group of community activists plans to make a push to get Polk County represented on the board of directors for the regional bus service Lynx, in the hope that it keeps bus service available on the Polk County side of Poinciana.
They also want Polk County to invest more transportation dollars in Poinciana.
Annette Brown Best, who has been pushing the issue of improved bus service for Poinciana, said she wants to start by ensuring that both the Polk and Osceola county residents of Poinciana, all 84,000 of them cut across 10 villages, have steady and reliable bus service. Brown Best said she got involved in this issue after she had to walk to the closest bus station to get to work, and the bus never showed up.
“I had to walk to work,” she said. “It took me an hour and a half to get to work.”
Brown Best is a member of the Poinciana Economic Development Alliance, or PEDA, which held a meeting on Wednesday at Lake Marion Creek Elementary School on the Polk County side of Poinciana, to talk about the need for a high school and middle school there, and to outline the challenges they’re facing with the local bus service.
Lynx provides bus service that goes into both the Osceola and Polk County side of Poinciana. Brown Best said she’s concerned because Lynx is facing a $2 million budget shortfall, and she’s worried they’ll cut off the service into Poinciana-Polk County unless the county contributes money to that route.
“We need to get Polk County representation on the Lynx board,” she said. “Right now the Lynx board is Osceola County, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. Polk County is not on that board.”
The Polk County side of Poinciana is under-served by public transportation options, Brown Best said, even though the villages on this side of the community have more than 31,000 residents.
“We have in Poinciana over 12,000 people who use the bus,” she said. “It’s still going through Village 3. Village 3 in Polk County is not paying for that. Why not have Polk County on the Lynx board so they can start contributing to Lynx, because they are $2 million in debt.”
Polk County Commissioner R. Todd Danzler said Polk and Osceola County now work together to provide bus service for all of Poinciana, as a collaborative effort to service a community that is cut across two separate counties.
“One of the things we’re doing is that we pay Lynx to come down and service them,” Danzler said. “I think Osceola County has worked well with us. We’re doing the best we can.”
Dave Walters, communications specialist for the Polk County Board of County Commissioners, said Polk provides a pickup line, the 601, to Polk’s Poinciana residents, as well as van service for residents who need a ride to a medical office, day care or another destination they can’t otherwise get to.
“We have a pickup line in South Poinciana,” he said. “The fact that the buses running in Poinciana say Lynx on it does not mean we don’t pay for the services. We also do an incredible amount of disadvantaged transportation service, and that’s all paid for by the county.”
Still, some of the community activists say they don’t think Polk is doing enough.
“The issue with transportation is budgeting,” said Pastor Henry Vernon said. “Polk County has money in the budget for public transportation, but they are not making that public. If they won’t sit down and take it out of the budget and spend it, then we need to bring a lawsuit against them. We need to bring litigation against Polk County. They are there to serve the people.”
As it is, Brown Best said, the bus service throughout Poinciana is inadequate at best, and often unreliable.
“They are supposed to have feeder buses,” she said. “When the buses are full, they are supposed to call in feeder buses to pick up the slack. The feeder buses don’t show up.”
That’s why both counties need to invest more in bus route, she said.
“Why not get together with Lynx and come up with a viable plan to alleviate this?” she said. “With the recession, people can’t afford the gas, people have lost their cars – they are riding the bus. It’s insane. It’s crazy what’s going on. We’re 84,000 people. We have an antiquated system with one bus. We’ve got 1,000 people a day looking to ride that bus, but they are leaving 500 people at the side of the road.”
Poinciana resident Sabrina Otis said for those who do make it on the bus, it can be extremely crowded at peak times.
“The kids are all crunched up at the door,” she said. “And we get broken down buses all the time.”
“It is a major issue,” said Nick Murdock, the chairman of PEDA, which organized the partnership program. “Not only are we leaving 500 people on the streets, but there are probably another 500 people in their homes who would ride the bus if we had an adequate system.”
Waters, though, said Polk County pays entirely for the 601, a pickup line that is a “direct dial service – you call to have them pick you up. It’s not a fixed route.” There is another pickup line in Poinciana, the 603, which Osceola County funds, he said.
Polk County recognizes that its Polk County residents don’t all drive a car, Waters said.
“That’s why we contracted with Lynx to offer these services,” he said.
Waters added that the county hopes to lessen some of the overcrowding on the Poinciana bus route.
“What we plan on doing is expanding our service area, which is the Solivita area, to alleviate some of that overcrowding,” Waters said. Solivita is the active adult community on the Polk County side of Poinciana.
Murdock said PEDA has scheduled a meeting on May 17 with Osceola County Commission Chairman John Quinones to discuss the bus situation, adding “The safety issues cannot go on any further. They have to be addressed.”
Brown Best noted that Polk County was hosting a Transit Summit on June 13 in Lakeland, but she added, “We need to have a meeting before then. Why do we have to go all the way to Lakeland to tell them what we need in Poinciana?”