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Wilmington bus riders continue to fight for Rodney Square routes

Wilmington City Councilman Vash Turner advocates for bus service at Rodney Square (Zoe Read/WHYY)

Wilmington City Councilman Vash Turner advocates for bus service at Rodney Square (Zoe Read/WHYY)

Concerned citizens and activists continue to fight for bus service at Wilmington’s Rodney Square three months after half the routes along the public space were eliminated.

At a public workshop meant to discuss proposed DART bus changes for May, attendants expressed disdain over the state’s decision to shift 13 bus routes away from Rodney Square, beginning last December.

“DART’s hit-and-run dismantling of the Rodney Square bus hub has hit passengers hard with confusion and inconvenience, hurt their lives with the distress of missing buses after walking multiple blocks around downtown in the rain, snow, cold and ice, and waiting 30 minutes or more for the next bus at substandard bus stops without shelter or a bench to sit on,” said Scott Spencer of the Coalition to Keep Bus Service on Rodney Square.

The Coalition, comprised of activists, including the NAACP, collected 1,300 signatures on a petition against the plan, which combined eight routes into four.

The change kept 12 routes along Rodney Square, and other bus stops were available about a quarter mile away.

However, activists argued the changes violate civil rights codes by eliminating the mobility of people of color, low income and elderly bus riders.

Last month, the state restored three routes. But bus riders at Tuesday’s meeting say that’s not enough.

“You can’t take the buses off the square unless you give us a reasonable replacement,” said Jackson Kirk Grimes, a disabled veteran. “You can’t have people wandering four or five blocks across the city to catch buses, because people like me and elderly people can’t do it—especially in the hot summer, or in the rain.”

Bus rider Brenda Perry said she wants DART to be more transparent.

“Why are we having these meetings on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, 11 to 1, 4 to 6, when nobody can come?” she said. “I think it’s designed that way so few people can make it, because it looks like no one’s concerned, and DART can say, ‘They didn’t show up.’”

The state said Rodney Square was never meant to be a transit hub, and that the plan will eliminate congestion in the city. However, activists and citizens opposed to the change believe businesses and law firms located around the space wanted to gentrify the area, known as the “heart of downtown.”

According to a News Journal article published Tuesday, business leaders privately met with Gov. John Carney, D-Delaware, to “pressure” him for final decisions on the bus route plan several months before the state announced it in September.

“We should not have secret meetings of business leaders,” said John Flaherty of the Delaware Coalition for Open Government.

“We should not have two books—a public book and a private book. It’s very discouraging we all show up, we provide testimony, but yet there’s an alternative process we’re excluded from.”

Officials said the change is an interim step, until the new Wilmington Transit Center opens next to the Biden Train Station. The $20 million dollar transit center is part of a $258 million dollar investment in Wilmington transit and transportation.

But until then, Rodney Square bus riders say they’re inconvenienced.

“I think a lot of us would have been okay if we already had a hub in place. So now for the next two years everyone is going to be scattered all over the place,” said Wilmington City Councilman Vash Turner.

“We’re not saying the city doesn’t need progression, it’s how the city progresses. We need to involve the regular people in the decisions we make as decision makers.”

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