Thursday, May 16, 2013

Platypus Might Be Growing Wings

The last meeting of  the Coordinated Transportation Human Services Committee was more action-packed than usual.

"But gentlemen, enough of words.  Actions speak louder than.  Action now." -- Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange

"A platypus is an eagle designed by a committee." -- Unknown

PLATTSBURGH CITY, NY - Wed. May 15, 2013

Eight years and very little accomplished.

An exasperated Debra Buell observes the meetings are nothing more than "whine fests."

And where were the county legislators?  No shows again.

Time frame: 10 AM to past noon.  Scheduled for two hours the meeting runs over an half-hour.  Setting: Second floor conference room, Clinton County Government Center.  Participants: community agency reps and interested citizens (plus one blogger), gathered around a long table.  Seating: oversized stuffed chairs, red fabric contrasting with molded black plastic, plenty of cushioning.

Situation: Another meeting of the Coordinated Transportation Human Services Committee, an ad hoc group looking into ways to improve transportation in the rural sprawl of Clinton County.

James Boseley, Planning Technician for Clinton County Public Transportation (CCPT), tries to coordinate the meeting.  James is a pleasant spoken young man, professional but also accommodating.  He wants to discuss a key points of study dealing with county transportation issues but yields the floor when some people push for action.

And after a while I can understand that push.  Despite the ample cushioning and tilt/swivel feature of my chair my ass still gets sore.

Add to the mix new blood in the form of two dynamic guys, James Ward and Nick Dubay, who are charged up with all sorts of new ideas.  Examples of youth not being wasted on the young.

James W. and Nick want to get involved.  James W. in appearance and manner is the relatively quieter of the two, an average Joe.  Then again it's easy to be "quieter" than Nick with his tattoos and bushy Centurion-helmet-plume haircut.

They run Plattsburgh Area Regional Transport or the PARTy bus on weekends, providing free rides at night to and from downtown for Plattsburgh State students and others enjoying the night life.  They offer all sorts of suggestions such as installing bus stop signs to raise awareness of the county transportation service.

But the newbies are unaware of the history that precedes their visit.

Debra Buell has been documenting for years through photographs and videos the barriers that wheelchair-bound people face in Plattsburgh City.  It's been a fight to get the county and businesses to be compliant with the directives of the Americans with Disabilities Act (or ADA, another acronym to remember).  Citizens like her need accessible transportation for medical appointments; they're dependent upon the paratransit service provided by the county bus system.

If you're a recipient of her emails it's easy to understand her frustration.  Sometimes it's a matter of not moving forward but just keeping in place the small progress that has been made.  A couple of times during the meeting she expresses some of that frustration.

A particular sore point: Where are the county legislators?  The committee is set up to improve the efficiency of public transportation, eliminating duplication of service, thus saving taxpayer dollars.  Some legislators promise to show up but remain absent, apparently indifferent even to saving money.

The newbies: James Ward (left) and Nick Dubay.

One of the newbies asks why the legislators need to be there?  Can't the committee just do its thing without them?

Committee coordinator James Boseley replies: "It's good to have them here so that they're informed along the process.  When they have to pass legislation that actually makes funding available, that allows the county to take action, they don't have to be filled in at the last minute about the long process."

Also, adds Debra, if the legislators are part of the process they don't have to be convinced of a proposal's value.

Debra appreciates that the newbies have the right attitude, thinking in terms of possibilities, but adds: "What we have been having here for about eight years is: 'Yes, but,' 'No, but,' 'I can't,' 'My committee,' 'My community,' 'my organization.'"

A newbie responds: "But you never had us before."

Also in attendance is Mary-Alice Shemo, an interested citizen.  I've seen her at other public meetings.  Don't mistake her for the stereotype of the kindly  grandmother, always willing to go along to get along.  She's a good person but when she feels she's right, she gets a bit feisty, ready to take action.

Mary-Alice suggests a delegation should be formed to go to the county legislature since none of the legislators are willing to attend the coordinated transportation meetings.

Someone says that legislators would show up at future meetings.

In response another person guffaws.

Michael Labello from NYS Department of Transportation, Public Transportation Bureau, comments: "You can't put on a roof without a foundation.  You're going to have to figure out how you're going to build this committee."

From his suggestions smaller committees are formed to look into various aspects, such as infrastructure and marketing, and they will report back every three months at a master meeting.

Finally.  Some action.

But as Michael observes: "Change is difficult.  Nobody likes change."

All I will add:

Change now.

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