We need to build a government that listens to its citizens – a government that actively listens. This involves enthusiastically soliciting citizen input, and then incorporating that input into the decision-making process.
A recent and ongoing partnership between the South County Huddle (the Huddle) and the County’s Office of Transportation is a great example of what can be accomplished when active listening takes place. According to Kris Smith (a co-chair of the Huddle’s Transportation Committee) both the Huddle and the Office of Transportation identified transportation as a service that many South County residents needed but that the county was not providing. This makes sense, especially when we look at transportation through an equity lens. In their 2015 report Poverty Amidst Plenty V: Striving To Achieve Progress For All the Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County tells us that “Transportation influences virtually every aspect of county community life, including its economic health” (p. 20). With both the Huddle and the Office of Transportation realizing that transportation was needed in South County, a partnership was formed.
The Office of Transportation had the numbers and access to resources, but they needed a sense of the people in South County. Which people lacked access to transportation? What would they use the transportation for if access were provided? How would that transportation need to be designed so that it wouldn’t disrupt the character of South County? This was something that the South County Huddle could provide! The Huddle’s members surveyed over 110 civic and religious institutions in the area and shared the information with the Office of Transportation, who incorporated their input into designing a pilot program for South County.
According to information given to the Huddle by the Office of Transportation, the plan that resulted from this partnership is set to begin on or around July first. There will be a bus route that starts and ends at the Annapolis mall and loops through South County. It will take approximately 1.5 hours to complete the loop. The bus will operate from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Additionally, there will be two demand-response shuttles, each able to hold six to eight passengers and able to accommodate wheelchairs, that will ferry residents from their homes to other locations, including to a bus stop.
This pilot program isn’t perfect. It doesn’t serve all of South County…yet. Ideally, it would start earlier and end later so that South County residents could better rely on it for commuting to jobs in other parts of the county. Ideally, there would be a way to get directly to Glen Burnie or Fort Meade without having to go to the Annapolis mall first. It should also be noted that the budget for the Fiscal Year starting July first has not been approved yet, and so it is possible that the proposed plan could change between now and then. But none of this should diminish what this partnership between the Huddle and the Office of Transportation has accomplished.
What was accomplished is impressive. This partnership has found a way to meet a big need of the South County community in a way that doesn’t threaten the rural character of the region. No roads will need to be widened for the shuttles to operate along South County’s back streets. It is a transportation system that can function on the infrastructure that is already present. If the pilot program is successful, then it could be expanded and improved. This has the potential to be a big step towards improving the level of equity in the South County Community.
The way it was accomplished is just as, if not more, impressive. A group of involved women worked with the government to meet a need in their community in one of the least intrusive ways possible. This coupling of government resources with local community knowledge is a glowing example of how county government should work. This model is one that all elected officials and county departments should strive to emulate.
I want to thank Kris Smith and Carmen Skarlupka (the co-chairs of the Huddle’s transportation committee), Nora Terres and the rest of the South County Huddle for a job well done. Your advocacy is inspiring. I want to thank Ramond Robinson, Director of the county’s Office of Transportation, for listening to these women and incorporating their work into your planning. This is leadership.
This is the kind of thing that can happen when people speak out and a government listens. We need more of this!
The author, James Kitchin, is a researcher in Education and Immigration policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), a Crofton resident, and a candidate for County Council for District 7, which includes Southern Anne Arundel County.