Pinal County is more than 5,000 square miles, so it’s a difficult place to get around for people who don’t own a car.
To help, CART — Central Arizona Regional Transit — runs a small bus service that connects Coolidge, Florence, Casa Grande and Central Arizona College. The service has been running since mid-2010, when it started as Pinal County Express, said Ernie Feliz, grants coordinator with the city of Coolidge.
During that time it has persevered through a number of challenges, including declining ridership and a temporary loss of federal grant money.
“This is an important service for people,” Feliz said. “Not everyone can afford to pay to drive a car. We feel we are providing a valuable service in the community and the region.”
The system is funded by the Arizona Department of Transportation, Central Arizona College, Coolidge, Pinal County and Florence. Some of the money came from a federal grant that was passed through ADOT, but that funding was lost last fall. The Casa Grande City Council voted to prohibit Greyhound from using the Chevron gas station at Trekell and Kortsen roads as a bus stop. CART’s grant money was contingent upon delivering riders to another bus service (Greyhound) that would allow them and their baggage to travel to two urban areas.
This spring, Greyhound announced it would replace the Casa Grande location with a stop in Eloy at Love’s Travel Stop. CART is working on changing its routes and schedule to add Love’s Travel Stop. Once that’s done, CART will regain the funding. The process includes submitting route and schedule changes for public comment. Feliz said he hopes the new route will be in place by the beginning of August.
Restoration of the grant money is huge because it pays for 58 percent of operating costs, 80 percent of administrative costs and 80 percent of maintenance for the four-bus service, Feliz said.
Another issue CART has struggled with is falling ridership. According to numbers provided by Feliz, ridership was 26,659 in 2014, 17,920 in 2016 and 12,985 in 2018. Feliz cites issues with Greyhound as the cause of more recent drops. Even before the Greyhound stop closed, Feliz said CART buses sat at the Greyhound stop for 20 minutes at a time because CART misunderstood a grant requirement.
“People just don’t want to sit there for 20 minutes,” Feliz said.
The service normally costs $2 for a one-way fare and $4 for a daily fare, with discounts for monthly fares. It stops at destinations such as the county courthouse in Florence, CAC and Banner Casa Grande Medical Center. It occasionally has free-ride days to build awareness, and on those days more people ride the buses, Feliz said. Feliz hopes these promotions and an improved route and schedule will help reverse annual ridership trends.
“There are people who are depending on the CART system,” Feliz said. “We know we provide a valuable community service.”
For more information, visit ridethecart.com. | PW