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Announcement of SporTran’s south Bossier expansion met with confusion by city leaders

Published: Dec. 22, 2021 at 2:40 PM CST
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SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) - SporTran’s announcement of an expansion into south Bossier was met with confusion, after Mayor Tommy Chandler made a statement saying he was not consulted about the project.

On Tuesday, Dec. 21, SporTran CEO Dinero Washington said they worked closely with Chandler and his staff on expanding the service that was set to begin on Jan. 2.

“Adding South Bossier to our service area has been many years in the making. We’ve worked closely with Mayor Tommy Chandler and his staff to build a schedule and stop map that makes sense for the residents and businesses there. With Zero Fare ridership also beginning January 2, we’ve removed the barriers to public transit in South Bossier and across the Shreveport-Bossier City limits. It’s an exciting time for our community,” he said.

That evening, Chandler took to Facebook to say he was surprised by the announcement and that he had not approved any new routes.

SporTran released a statement on Wednesday, Dec. 22 in response to Chandler’s post:

Last week, SporTran Chief Executive Officer Dinero’ Washington, Chief Financial Officer Alan Bright, and Director of Transportation Johnny May met with Bossier City Mayor Tommy Chandler and Chief Administrative Officer Amanda Nottingham at the Mayor’s office to discuss expanding SporTran bus service to South Bossier City. For the past week, SporTran has been working with Nottingham’s Office on marketing and promotion for a January launch.

The plan was a redirection of the route that encircled the interior of Barksdale Air Force Base. The existing BAFB interior route would have been moved to Barksdale Boulevard.

“We were ready to move forward with a January 3rd launch of the new route. However, we have learned that the Bossier City Council would like to be a part of the discussion,” said Washington. “We are committed to working with Mayor Chandler and the City Council to make this route a reality for Bossier City residents.”

SporTran will announce a new launch date after a plan is agreed upon with City Officials.

Transit service in Bossier is not new. SporTran has served East Bossier, North Bossier, and Barksdale Air Force Base since the 1970s. SporTran has been working to get public transit expanded in South Bossier since Northwest Council of Government’s 2017 Transit Development Study for the area.

Chandler also issued a full statement the same afternoon:

Yesterday’s announcement by SporTran of the approval of a new bus route in South Bossier came as a surprise to myself and my administration. We were not provided with any proposal for the approval of the route. Neither my administration nor the city council have approved any such new route. It is also my understanding that Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development was not consulted before SporTran placed signs along the alleged new route which includes at least one state highway.

Pursuant to a written agreement with SportTran, Bossier City must approve new routes and this approval must come from the city council and the administration. While SporTran announced that bus rides will be free to riders for the next two years under a federal grant, it is unknown what this new proposed route will cost the taxpayers of Bossier City. Based on prior agreements, SportTran is already paid more than one million dollars per year by Bossier City for bus service. We have not been provided with any information regarding the cost to the city in 2022 or any future cost after the federal money expires.

Let me make it clear, I am not against SporTran routes as Bossier City has collaborated with SporTran for many years to provide public transportation to citizens who live and work in Bossier City. I am, however, concerned that frequent stops by buses could further congest our already busy roads. Most importantly, I am extremely concerned that taxpayer funds could be obligated without approval by the council and without being included in the city budget. Any new route and associated stops most obtain preapproval from the Bossier City Council and any other permitting agency. SporTran was notified that the newly elected District 1 council member would need to be included any conversation regarding any new south Bossier route. However, SporTran announced the route before Councilman Brian Hammons was even sworn into office.

Bossier City must be provided with documentation that other government agencies and stakeholders have been consulted and have approved any such route or stops. Unfortunately, we were provided with none of that information before SporTran made their surprise announcement yesterday. We look forward to working with SporTran and the other agencies to resolve this issue as expeditiously as possible. We will provide more information as it becomes available.

SporTran provided KSLA News 12 with copies of emails sent between SporTran’s Director of Marketing Leslie Peck & Chief Administrative Officer Amanda Nottingham, regarding the south Bossier expansion.

When he saw the mayor’s statement on social media Tuesday night, Washington said he was ‘shocked and surprised” himself.

“We met with Mayor Chandler last week and provided the things we wanted to do,” Washington said. “We provided a hard copy of the routes as well as a digital link that he could review, him and his CAO. They seemed very excited to me. They asked us to provide press and marketing information so they would be able to market it as well. At that time we turned them over to our Director of Marketing, Leslie Peck, and they have been working with her for the last week. The first comments that I heard that they possibly did not want this service was yesterday at 1:30. The Mayor’s office called me and told me the council was a little upset about this announcement.”

Washington says the pushback is coming from the Bossier City Council.

Bossier City Council President Don Williams says councilmembers didn’t know about the expanded services in the city until it was announced, and that decisions like that need to go through the council.

“If we are going to sign an agreement like that, it has to come through us,” Williams said. “Especially since the next two years are free, what’s going to happen after two years? We are going to be charged for 19 stops? I still don’t see how you can get all those stops in there looking at the map we got. We need to sit down with Mr. Washington, all of us, if that’s what he wants to do.”

The proposed route, Route 29, would have over 20 stops in South Bossier. SporTran had already put the bus stop signs up, but Williams says the mayor had the city take them down Wednesday.

Shreveport Councilman Grayson Boucher says he’s spoken with several Bossier City officials regarding the SporTran announcement.

“It looks like we may have gotten a little ahead of ourselves, or at least SporTran did on the announcement,” Boucher said. “We have been partners with Bossier City since 1975 for public transportation and I think it’s an important part of both of our cities to continue that relationship. It seems like we just kind of got a little bit ahead of ourselves. I think it’s going to require some approval from the Bossier City Council and I think that step was missed. So hopefully if Bossier agrees and they want it, then maybe we can have it up and running by the end of the first quarter.”

When asked if new route proposals in Shreveport have to go through the council, Boucher said it typically just goes through the mayor’s office.

“If there’s additional funding that has to go to SporTran, then that goes through us,” Boucher said. “But as far as logistics, that’s an administrative issue. I think the issue that we came into with Bossier is that they pay us a little over $80,000 per month for service. I think the problem is that no numbers were discussed and Bossier is looking at how much they might have to pay. I think once all those things are worked out, we will work really well with Bossier. I just wanted people to know that Shreveport isn’t trying to invade Bossier or push any of our services on Bossier unless they want them. I feel like this is something we can all work through.”

From conversations Williams has had with several Bossier City residents, he says it seems like some do not want the additional bus route.

“The people I’ve talked with administration, on the council, and the people in south Bossier, we don’t need it,” Williams said. “We don’t want it.”

Washington says SporTran is still open to talking about expanding service to south Bossier.

“We thought this was a done deal, but apparently there are more channels that they need to go through,” said Washington. “SporTran has done what we have done for the last eleven years; we meet with the mayor and the CAO. If there are any concerns, then that information is brought back to our attention, we are invited over to meet with city council, and we go forward from there.”

For now the route has been paused, pending ongoing talks between Bossier City and SporTran.

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