Selma to Montgomery and back

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 4, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

The Friends of the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail are working to establish a bus line connecting the two cities.

In 2004, they began collaborating with the Yellowstone National Park Service on research and development of a shared tour/transportation system for the Historic Voting Rights Trail.

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“It would be cost effective to ride it to Montgomery every day,” Tina Price, executive secretary of the Friends, said. “The money’s there. Yellowstone National Park already has a busing system. Our collaboration would include money and resources and be the first of its kind.”

The Grand Teton and Yellowstone parks’ busing system is administered by The National Park Service, as part of a federal system.

In 1993, the route became part of the national trail system.

The collaboration would network the National Historic Voting Rights Trail with the park systems in the Greater Yellowstone areas in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The initial buses for those parks cost $90,000 to $150,000 and were too costly to operate year-round until tour districts were established.

Since then, buses have been shared in gateway areas like Bozeman, Mont., Cody, Wy., and Idaho Falls, Idaho, and start-up and operational costs have been split between public and private entities.

Price said an estimated $800,000 would be needed to get the program underway in Central Alabama. That would include money for five buses, a manager of the system, drivers, insurance and maintenance.

“Initially, and still, we would prefer it start first here in Selma, because the Historic Trail starts here in Selma,” Price said. Because Montgomery already has a transportation system in place, it makes sense to work on the National Trail route between the two cities first, she said.

“Getting it started is key,” Price said. “Not only would it be to transport people from Montgomery to here, it could be used dual as a transit for tourism.”

As an example of the need, she pointed out a church from Washington state that brought a group to Selma. They flew to Birmingham, rented three vans and drove to Selma to tour the city, then drove back to Birmingham.

“We could have used vans to transport those people. That would be funding we would have had here,” she said.

Price said often groups from out of town call to see if transportation is available. And because an executive order mandates the shared use of public transportation, “other entities in the city that cannot afford buses would be able to use these buses.” That would include school groups, as well as nonprofit organizations.

Background on the bus partnership idea, printed in the National Parks Conservation Association’s magazine, said the buses have “glass or retractable roofs, large side windows for panoramic vistas, and can be outfitted with multimedia systems” for visual or auditory presentations.

“We need to establish a regional tour district legislatively,” Price said.

The idea being to use the buses for tourism and for industry – the vehicle would provide a cost-effective transport from Selma to Montgomery and back again.

In a letter to Alabama State Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, the Friends outlined advantages of the system:

Development of public transportation for areas that in no way could absorb the cost of this type of transportation system alone;

Shared asset provides cost savings immediately;

Will allow for alternative fuels as an option;

The New Yellow bus is ADA compliant with a hydraulic ramp allowing easy access for all citizens; and

Safe and reliable transportation for employees along with the potential for onboard training, meetings or briefings.

When not in use for work-related broadcasts, the large flat panel video monitor could display local or national programming and news.

The correspondence, seeking line item assistance for the transportation project, points out that the Yellow Bus Project “has the tremendous potential for raising the quality of life.”

Access to jobs, healthcare and daycare is cited as continued needs for the Alabama population.

The letter asks for Shelby’s assistance “in establishing a transportation system in the Central Alabama region that can serve us well into the next century.”

It also cites Central Alabama as seeing “unprecedented growth as a result of the location of the Hyundai Automotive Plant and its suppliers. By acting now and gradually developing both public and private transportation, we will save many millions of dollars down the road while improving the quality of life for all who live or visit here.”

Price said it is a long, ongoing process.

“There is funding for it, but it’s not yet being addressed,” she said.

Shelby will be in Selma on Wednesday, speaking at The St. James Hotel at noon.