Pine Bluff Transit is planning a new bus route in the heart of Pine Bluff that its director believes will be profitable and at the same time offer more variety to riders. At a meeting of the City Council’s Health and Welfare Committee this week, Howard Gurley said the new route would focus on the Olive Street area around the Jefferson Square Shopping Center and would take advantage of an existing shelter that is located in the front of the square near McDonald’s.


“That’s a high volume area but there’s not a bus that runs on Olive Street,” he said.


The new route would start at Jefferson Square, then run down Olive Street to Harding Avenue, then east to Old Main, where the bus would turn south and run down Main until turning back to Walmart, then returning to Jefferson Square.


To accomplish that, Gurley wants to phase out regular bus service to the Watson Chapel area but offer service on an as needed basis. For example, senior citizens or others who fall under the American’s With Disabilities Act (ADA) could call in and request service.


Service to Watson Chapel began about four months ago on a trial basis, which was due to end Sept. 29. Gurley said the route had the lowest ridership of any route in the city, with sometimes just one or two riders in a day. Alderman Bruce Lockett said that some of the bus routes in Pine Bluff have existed for decades and it might take more than three or four months for people to adjust to a new route like Watson Chapel.


“In the past, I think we have been accommodating our drivers who didn’t want to drive on Olive Street because of all the traffic lights but we’re not accommodating the public,” Gurley said.


Committee Chairman Alderman Donald Hatchett said the Olive Street area has the highest traffic count in the city and noted that a number of new businesses and fast food restaurants are located on that street. He said transit wasn’t taking the Watson Chapel route away completely.


“It would still be available as needed,” he said.


Alderman Win Trafford wasn’t convinced, saying that he didn’t believe the Watson Chapel route had been given enough time to get established, and ridership had increased over the past few months.


“I think we need to look at adding Olive Street on a temporary basis without shutting down Watson Chapel,” he said.


Hatchett said he believed the city needed to move quickly to take advantage of the opportunities available with the new Olive Street route, adding that the city has only limited resources and “the numbers don’t support the resources (with the Watson Chapel route.)”


“By going to a dispatch system, we’re not abandoning the area completely,” Mayor Shirley Washington said, telling Gurley to keep her informed of the ridership on the Olive Street route.


On another subject, Evelyn Horton, who heads the city’s Quality of Life Division, reported that on Sept. 23, the Fourth Saturday Community Cleanup deployed volunteers and others to clean up eight illegal dump sites. Figures compiled by Horton showed that a total of 35 yards of large items, approximately four tons of crushed garbage and 12 cubic yards of tires had been picked up.


The committee was also told that the city has now placed cameras at several locations, but the drawback is that they have to be manually picked up and the memory cards removed. Hatchett said the original intent of using the cameras was so that the cameras could be monitored without an officer physically going and picking them up. He said the committee would look at methods to reduce the labor intensity.