After a “listening session” earlier this month about extending SporTran service into south Bossier City, recent agendas of the City Council suggest it and Republican Mayor Tommy Chandler will let the matter drop. If so, they should rethink that decision.
Late last year, SporTran announced it would create a new route essentially lengthening bus access from the Barksdale Air Force Base main entrance south along Barksdale Blvd. all the way to a turnaround at Parkway High School. At present, routes that traipse though the city allow riders to stop as far east as Louisiana Downs, just north of Interstate 220 at Airline Dr. and Benton Rd., and westerly to Old Bossier City/East Bank/Louisiana Boardwalk, traversing all the main arteries. The routes also connect through downtown Shreveport, the outskirts of Shreveport’s Stoner Hill and Highland neighborhoods, and along Kings Highway and Shreveport-Barksdale Highway.
Adding the proposed Barksdale Blvd. route would allow southern city residents to access seamlessly all of these endpoints in Bossier City, as well as major employers, government agencies, and health care facilities close to the routes in Shreveport (if in a somewhat time-consuming manner). It also could allow for Shreveporters and Bossier Citians north of Barksdale AFB to come into south Bossier City, mainly for employment purposes, and for southern residents easier access to area amenities such as shopping.
Chandler seemed taken off guard by the seemingly last-minute declaration and issued a statement the expansion needed Council approval before anything could happen (SporTran apparently already began putting up bus stop signs along Barksdale and at year’s beginning hastily had to remove them). He added that, even if a federal government transportation grant ensured free fares for the next two years, the city still paid the agency a subsidy for service that he said was over $1 million annually and that this amount could increase to an unknown level with institution of the new line.
At the session devoted to the issue, SporTran Chief Executive Officer Dinero Washington produced data that showed the city since 2012 never had paid more than $1 million for service and that the typical contracted subsidy was more like $850,000 a year. Further, Washington claimed the new route would incur no new fees.
Whether that would continue is questionable. With the area south of McDonald Street having a distinct lack of commerce – three grocery stores, a few smaller restaurants, a smattering of low-traffic small businesses, and a couple of schools directly off Barksdale – the transit disproportionately would involve picking up people to go a great distance and returning them, with a good deal of the remainder being area shoppers. This may not generate enough ridership to prevent the agency asking for an increased subsidy in future years when the fare-less riding wears off.
Most glaringly, the proposed stops aren’t convenient to the Brookshire Grocery Arena. This could be rectified by running the route though Medical Drive instead of from its intersection up and down Barksdale to Jimmie Davis Highway. The route could turn onto Medical Drive to and from Jimmie Davis reconnecting with Barksdale, making Arena patrons travel half the distance to an entrance and serving various on-route destinations such as a hospital (without emergency room), assisted living centers, and a church in the process.
The characteristics of riders using the route also dispels the facile notion of some that it would encourage the importation of boorish if not criminal activity. You really don’t want to making a getaway on a bus especially when you have to make at least one transfer, why travel many miles and minutes to commit crime when targets presumably as easy are closer, and there are close to zero places to party in south Bossier City (south of McDonald off Barksdale to the southern city limits there aren’t even half a dozen locations serving booze for on-premises consumption), so this is an exceptionally flimsy excuse against the proposed line.
Thus, this is a gift horse not to look into its mouth. There’s no harm in taking up the offer through 2023, and if Shreveport then reneges on the implicit promise it won’t charge extra for the additional service, the city can weigh whether to pay up or drop the line. Chandler should support, and the Council back, having SporTran add its route #29.