Social activists and residents in Delaware are making a plea to the state to reverse plans to reconfigure bus routes in Wilmington starting Sunday.
The state NAACP and other social activists will meet Gov. John Carney, D-Delaware, on Friday in a last ditch effort to stop plans to shift thirteen bus routes away from Rodney Square.
The Coalition to Keep Bus Service on Rodney Square has received 1,300 signatures on a petition against the plan.
Delaware NAACP president Linwood Jackson said the changes violate civil rights codes.
“Removing most buses from Rodney Square, which is essential to the freedom and mobility for those who can’t afford a car, such as single parents, students, senior citizens, disabled citizens, low income people and minorities, will be discriminatory and disruptive,” he said.
“We call it ‘discrimination by neglect of services’ to these tax paying passengers whose tax dollars help finance the care, upkeep and security of this historic square, and they too deserve fair and equitable access to this public asset.”
The public space dubbed the “heart of downtown” is surrounded by the banking industry, several businesses and the DuPont Theater. Buses stop at the four corners of the square constantly throughout the day.
The state said the change, which combines eight routes into four and reduces transfers, will eliminate congestion on King Street, which runs alongside Rodney Square. Instead, the routes will run along Shipley and French streets.
“Rodney Square is not a primary destination for most of our riders. Several use that area as a transfer to go north or south of the city. But Rodney Square itself is not the destination. A lot of people transfer there,” said Delaware Department of Transportation spokeswoman Julie Theyerl.
“The benefit to riders is it offers a one-seat ride so there’s no more need to transfer if that’s the direction of travel they’re going—so, some riders may find it more convenient to reach their destination and other riders will have to walk a block or two.”
Theyerl said there will still be 12 routes serving Rodney Square, and bus stops are available no more than a quarter mile away.
Those against the change say walking even a block or two will be difficult for the elderly or disabled, however.
“I’m a senior and I’m disabled, and I look at all the other elderly and disabled people walking around with canes and wheelchairs, what they’re going to have to go through,” said DART rider Frank Mowbray. “Even just moving buses two blocks or four blocks is a struggle. Just walking down the mall to pick up my medicine from Rite Aid is a struggle for me, because I have a lung disease.”
Several Wilmington residents, like Cherise Blackwell, say the Rodney Square stop is the most convenient stop in the city. Blackwell, who uses the Rodney Square stop for every day errands and to go to and from work, said the bus stop is “the center of Wilmington.”
Scott Spencer, who is leading the Coalition, said despite public workshops on the matter, he doesn’t believe DelDOT adequately informed the public on the changes.
“A lot of people don’t have the financial means to be online regularly and even see and understand the route maps,” he said.
“Even the bus drivers have said this is so complicated they won’t be able to answer questions to passengers about where to change buses—now they can tell them to go to any of these corners of Rodney Square.”
Labor union Delaware State AFL-CIO also has expressed opposition to the changes.
Theyerl said DelDOT plans to hold community conversations in January and February to get feedback on the changes.
Governor spokesman Jonathan Starkey said in an email statement Carney will discuss with opponents “why it was important to reroute buses away from Rodney Square, which was never intended to serve as a transit hub,” and the plan will “reduce congestion around the Square, while preserving options for bus riders traveling into the city and throughout New Castle County.”
He added the plan also is an interim step until the new Wilmington Transit Center opens adjacent to the Biden Train Station. The $20 million transit center is part of $258 million in investments to improve transit and transportation infrastructure across Wilmington.