Study looking at mass transit service in Graham County

- Jakob Scholz Photo/Pexels

SAFFORD — Public transit could be coming to the Gila Valley.

During Monday’s Graham County Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Paul David updated the board about a recent transportation meeting, and said a feasibility study on a fixed-route mass transit system is moving forward.

“For now, twice a day (with stops at) 10 locations. They’ll make a loop starting at St. Vincent DePaul, going to the hospital and ending up at Walmart. And they also will stop by the EAC Campus,” David said.

The planning is being spearheaded by SEAGO — the Southeastern Arizona Governments Organization — in conjunction with Eastern Arizona College, Easter Seals Blake Foundation and the San Carlos Apache Tribe.

Blake Foundation has been operating the dial-a-ride transit system, which serves primarily those who cannot drive themselves, including seniors and those with a physical or developmental disability.

David said there is federal funding to get the program going, but ridership volume will dictate the future of the program.

He added that the program would be dependent on federal subsidies.

“They figured the cost is $1-$1.25 to ride, and the actual cost to provide the service is $51 a ride. In any urban city, the fares never even come close to covering it. So it’s going to be a cash black hole,” David said. “As long as the federal government is continuing to subsidize that, I guess we’ll have a transit system. But to try to out-of-pocket it, or have the municipalities try to cover it, we wouldn’t be able to throw enough money at it to keep it going.”

According to SEAGO’s 2023-24 Regional Transportation Coordination Plan, 33 percent of Graham County’s population fit the criteria for needing public transportation — those over 65, the disabled, those under the poverty line and those without a vehicle.

The plan also identified the key destinations for those who would use public transportation, including:

● Eastern Arizona College

● Mt. Graham Medical Center and other medical service providers

● Social Service providers (Social Security, DES, etc.)

● Downtown Safford

● Shopping

The feasibility study is expected to be complete in late 2024 or early 2025.