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Woman's long walk to work reveals lack of west Pasco public transit

Lillian Deso will take a walk most Sundays. A long walk.

This isn't a health kick, or an endurance test for a pedometer. It's a way of life for someone with no other way of getting around. Deso, a Worcester, Mass., native who moved here in 1975, used to be like the rest of west Pasco's automobile-centric society. Get in the car and go. Then an accident, a brain tumor and two surgeries left peripheral blindness in both eyes.

Deso, 61, no longer drives a car, but she remains in motion. She works 20 hours week at T.J. Maxx, a store that is moving south from a plaza in Bayonet Point to the Gulfview Square mall. That's an additional 4 miles tacked on to the trek from her home in the Gulf Highlands neighborhood to report for her Sunday evening shift as a security clerk in the fitting rooms.

She has no alternative. Pasco County Public Transportation does not run its regularly scheduled routes on Sundays or holidays. So, she plans to leave home around 2 p.m. even though her work day doesn't start until 4:30. It's a 90-minute walk, she said. At least it was when she was younger. She's done it before because she used to work at Montgomery Ward. She'll bring fresh clothes to change into before reporting for duty.

Three days ago, Deso appeared before the Metropolitan Planning Organization to remind that panel of county commissioners and elected city officials of the importance of better mass transit. The lack of bus service on Sundays and holidays doesn't matter if you have a white-collar office job — like government administration. It is a significant hurdle, however, if you're an hourly worker in the service or retail sector like much of west Pasco County.

"I'm here for the working people,'' she said afterward. "We have to work on those days and we have to be able to get to work.''

She was a little more pointed in addressing the transit planners: "None of you know what it's like to rely on a bus for transportation. You really don't understand it.''

They are not unsympathetic. Commissioner Jack Mariano once picked up Deso and chauffeured her to Dade City for a transit meeting. Mariano's Good Samaritan turn, however, helped illustrate Deso's point. There is no east-west service in Pasco. There are no routes serving Moon Lake nor Shady Hills, two of the poorer areas on the west side of the county. There is no north-south route linking central Pasco to Hillsborough County and the city of Tampa. Deso, personally, would like better service along the State Road 52 and Little Road corridors.

There used to be more immediate plans for better bus service in Pasco County. Constrained budgets, however, delayed the Moon Lake route for three consecutive years. It pushed back an expansion in Land O'Lakes, and a year ago, commissioners raised fares, eliminated holiday service and reduced the frequency of buses running on U.S. 19. It was better than the original pitch — killing a route in Zephyrhills and all service on Saturdays.

The outlook for 2011 isn't any better. Pasco County said it may need $13 million in cuts to balance its general and fire department budgets by Oct. 1 because of declining revenue from three consecutive years of shrinking property values and additional tax exemptions.

To gauge public sentiment about the value of individual departments and services, the county originally scheduled three town hall meetings at high schools in Shady Hills and Wesley Chapel and at the Pasco Hernando Community College campus outside Dade City. None of those sites, Deso pointed out, are accessible by bus from west Pasco.

She is indicative of the disconnect between the needs of today's residents and the excitement over planning future transit-oriented development, potential rail and a mass-transit corridor along State Road 54/56 to link west Pasco to the burgeoning Wiregrass Ranch area that contains a mall and soon will be home to a new PHCC campus and a new hospital. That better transit is a decade away at the earliest and perhaps 15 to 20 years in the future.

"We need this,'' Deso said, "yesterday.''

Incidentally, Pasco County acknowledged the time and location of the town hall meetings likely limited pubic input and now has scheduled a fourth meeting for 2 p.m. Tuesday at the west Pasco Government Center off Little Road.

A bus stop sits out front.

Woman's long walk to work reveals lack of west Pasco public transit 05/15/10 [Last modified: Saturday, May 15, 2010 3:13pm]
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