BITHLO, Fla. — Getting from Point A to B can be difficult, for even someone as spry and spirited as 80-year-old Betty Shanks.
- Reliable transportation is a problem in east Orange County's Bithlo
- Many residents have to walk or ride bikes, one resident says
- Transportation officials say demand for another route isn't there
- Metroplan Orlando seeking your feedback on long-term plans
But the school volunteer is not alone: Transportation is sparse in Bithlo, a small community off State Road 50 in east Orange County, making it challenging for many who live there to get around.
“Most of them don’t have transportation or reliable transportation and they need the bus back out here," Shanks said. “It’s a mess. Transportation out here is a mess. There’s no sidewalks, no bus routes. And most people out here ride bikes. A lot of people ride bikes.”
Those transportation concerns extend past the county line.
Orange County may attract most of the jobs and has a more developed transit network overall, but in outlying areas of Orange, or in Seminole and Osceola counties, connectivity diminishes as roads expand, says Gary Huttmann, the executive director of Metroplan Orlando.
"We hear stories of people spending one or two hours a day getting to and from work, when it's maybe just a 30-minute commute," said Huttmann, whose organization works on transportation solutions across Orange, Seminole, and Osceola. "Transit is one of those transportation problems where we know the solution: putting more service onto the street."
But talk of dedicated funding sources to beef up Central Florida's transit system would need to become action to move the needle.
Shanks and others in Bithlo have called for boosting bus service in order to help stem some of the transportation woes.
Central Florida bus system Lynx says it added a fixed bus route in August 2016 to its existing community circulator in Bithlo, which takes riders curb to curb by appointment. It's a cost-effective service designed for more rural areas, says Lynx's Matthew Friedman.
And with a combined ridership of 2,400 trips per month across Orange, Seminole and Osceola, Friedman said that the demand to add another fixed route is not there.
“There aren’t that many routes that run out that way. Lynx has done a great job over the years with what they have to work with," Huttmann said.
Shanks may not know the fix, but she says that having access to more reliable transportation would do wonders for her community — especially when the stakes are high.
“Bring the bus back and get a good route, where people don’t have to sit on the side of the road for 2 or 3 hours, waiting on the bus," she said. “People are getting killed. They get killed out here on (S.R.) 50.”
Metroplan Orlando, meanwhile, is working on a 2045 plan for its tri-county coverage area and wants feedback from residents. You can tell them what your transportation priorities are for the next two decades by emailing email@example.com.