- Author: Judy Shanley and Atalaya Sergi
- Date: July 13, 2023
When Glen retired as an educator from a small rural middle school, he knew that volunteering and service were in…
Paris, a small city in Northeast Texas is connecting its residents through public mobility services. Supported by the community, this service is providing much needed access to healthcare, grocery shopping and socialization.
Federal transportation funding in the United States is primarily allocated 80% for highways, 20% for public transit. In rural areas like Paris’s Lamar County, which has a population density of 55 people per square mile, this has led to a lack of mobility options for residents who don’t have access to a car. The region has been historically served by the Ark-Tex Council of Governments Rural Transit District (TRAX), a multi-county system that serves an area larger than the state of Connecticut. Reservations for the service needed to be scheduled at least 24 hours in advance.
After an increase in service demand from Lamar County, Sheena Record, a TRAX employee, recruited community stakeholders applied for grants for Paris to establish its own system. With support from a federal 5310 grant designed for elderly and disabled people and contributions from local organizations, the city now runs four fixed bus routes Monday-Friday, 6:30am-6:30pm.
When TRAX’s Paris Metro first launched in 2016, they provided over 50,000 rides to this city of just over 25,000 people. Even though COVID cut ridership in half, today the system is back up to pre-pandemic levels. “It’s been a blessing,” Paris resident Shirley Blackener told Texas Monthly.
Like much of rural America, the percentage of residents over the age of 65 is rising in Paris. In addition to creating equitable mobility options for residents, the Paris Metro is also a means of socialization for the elderly. “Some elderly people ride the bus daily, not only to get from point A to point B, but also to see their fellow passengers; a man on the bus wearing yellow sunglasses and a cross necklace said that it’s how he socializes,” Joelle DiPaolo wrote in Texas Monthly.
While Paris’s median per capita income is 41% below the national average and almost a quarter of its residents under 65 don’t have health insurance, the community persistently works to support their public transit program. After lobbying the Texas Department of Transportation, the system now receives annual grants from the state. To earn the matching funds required to be awarded the 5310 grant, Record raised funds from the United Way of Lamar County, Paris Junior College, Paris Regional Health, Texas Oncology-Paris, and the city’s government.
In July 2023, the Texas Transportation Commission awarded over $95 million across 79 rural and small urban transit districts, about $1.5 million of which was awarded to TRAX. Metro earns $165,000 from local sponsorships and advertising, but future funding of the program is not guaranteed.
Mount Pleasant, a smaller nearby town tried to convert its deviated bus to a fixed route system, following Paris’s example. But unlike in Paris, TRAX couldn’t raise local funds from that community’s chamber of commerce and community organizations. Its bus service was ended in 2019.
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