MONTGOMERY, Ala. — For visually impaired senior citizen Gillie Presley, public transportation is a lifeline. The 66-year-old from Tuscaloosa relies on taxis and rideshares to get around.
“I’ve needed public transportation all my life,” Presley said. “It’s not just handicapped people, there are poor people and on fixed incomes who can’t afford a car and need a way to get to work and to go to the grocery store.”
Earlier this month, Presley traveled to Montgomery to lobby the Alabama Legislature to pass a bill creating the state’s first public transportation fund. Now, it’s a reality.
The House of Representatives passed the bill on Thursday to create a public transport fund that will store state money and millions of matching federal dollars in the future.
Alabama is one of only five states with no state funding for public transport, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Advocacy organization Arise Citizens’ Policy Project estimates that tens of thousands of Alabamians can’t get to work, the doctor’s office or other places without it.
Sen. Rodger Smitherman, a Democrat from Birmingham who sponsored the bill, said public transport was essential to expanding the state’s economy, job growth and medical services.
The fund would set up an advisory committee to decide how to use future funds. Advocates want to see both bus systems connecting rural and urban areas and long-distance trains between major cities.
Arise Citizens’ Policy Project’s Executive Director Kimble Forrister has been working on expanding public transport in the state since the 1990s.
“Public transportation affects urban and rural, black and white people, people with jobs and without jobs, people with disabilities, senior citizens, and unfortunately, this is an area where we haven’t gone forward, we’ve gone backward,” he said. “But public transportation is in our future.”