In the city of Oxford, concerned citizens are advocating for an increase in bus routes for polling stations. A lack of transportation has often been cited as a major reason why voter turnout is low, according to a report by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.
Bus routes are pre-approved in January and February for the upcoming fiscal year beginning in October, so the potential bus routes to the polls cannot be met until 2019-2020.
“It’s not happening this year,” Kate Kellum, vice chair of the Pathways Commission, said. “I’ve accepted that.”
Oxford Conference Center is one of the biggest polling stations in Oxford, and Oxford-University Transit currently does not offer a bus route to that location.
“We used to have a route that serviced the Conference Center,” Carol Pringle, Operations Manager for Oxford Transit, said. “It lasted for about a year, but the ridership wasn’t what it needed to be.”
Kellum and Don Feitel, who is the chair for the Pathways Commission, both stated their concerns with the lack of sidewalks on Sisk Avenue and how Pathways has been trying to improve the access for bikers on that road.
“This issue just highlights the need for increased accessibility for alternative forms of transportation,” Feitel said. “We don’t want to limit access to only people who can afford to drive themselves.”
“I’m hoping to try to get the Transit Commission to include special routes starting the fiscal year ‘19-20,” Kellum said.
Margaret Sysyn is a member of the Voter Empowerment Project and created a detailed map of bus routes that are in correspondence with the polling stations located around the Oxford community. In addition, she included the polling stations that do not have bus routes to highlight the need for routes in those areas.
“Sure, there’s a handful of polls along the OUT bus routes, but not nearly enough accommodations for those who lack transportation,” Sysyn said.
Sysyn is also concerned with the gap in transportation provisions for those who live in rural areas, as well as those who are elders.
“I wish we could take people to the polls,” Pringle said. “That would be great.”
Due to regulations, the OUT bus system is not able to directly take voters to the polls.
“We just want to help the community in any way we can,” Pringle said. “That’s why we open our meetings to the public. We want people to be able to express their concerns so we can do whatever we can.”
The Transit Committee meets on the second Wednesday of each month. Those who have concerns are able to attend the meeting and voice their proposals for new routes.
“When people come into our meetings, we will have the opportunity to look at [the proposal] and see if it’s something we can do,” Pringle said.
Amy Fisher is an Associate Professor for Social Work and has created a community-engagement project called The Voter Empowerment Project, which aims to inform students about the importance of community engagement in all aspects.
“We want our students to learn the skills around community engagement and actions to a better society so that they will understand how important it is to exercise the right to vote,” Fisher said.
Midterm elections are set for Tuesday, November 6. Even with the lack of transportation for those who are unable to drive, other organizations such as Uber and Lyft are offering free rides to the polls.