The Navajo Transit System will be up and running tomorrow and serving its more than 1,042 passengers, who are primarily students attending Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint, N.M., or Dine’ College in Tsaile, Ariz.
I spoke with NTS Fleet Coordinator Harrison Smith late this afternoon at the NTS headquarters in Fort Defiance, Ariz., after interviewing Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly’s Communications Director Erny Zah at the executive offices in Window Rock, Ariz.
Zah and Smith both said that the shut-down today was not because of the federal government shut-down. They explained – in separate interviews – that the reason was vehicle insurance.
Smith explained that when the tribal fiscal 2013 ended at midnight on Sept. 30 so did the vehicle insurance for the 32 transit buses that 24 drivers drive on 18 bus routes. The buses were purchased in 2000 so they’re about 13 years old.
I remember doing a story on an entire tribal police district parking its vehicle because of the same problem, which is getting vehicle insurance paid in a timely manner using a tribal government process that is a tangled mass of red tape.
The outcry of local tribal government leaders and community members, plus media attention slid the insurance for the police vehicles through the red tape. I believe that the same can be said of the insurance for the transit buses.
Smith said that all the buses have insurance and it’s back to business as usual tomorrow, which was why he, the dispatcher, one bus driver and a mechanic were still working at 6:30 p.m. They were contacting the bus drivers and answering phone calls from passengers.
Information about the Navajo Transit System and its routes are on their website: http://www.navajotransit.com/
The announcement that the NTS is shut-down is still on the NTS website but ignore it because NTS is on the road again.
The driver with the earliest route is on the road at 3 a.m. That route starts from Birdsprings, Ariz., goes to Tuba City, Ariz., and ends in Flagstaff, Ariz., where the bus turns around for the trip back to Birdsprings.
During the recent 2014 tribal government operating budget, the NTS lost 3 employees – a mechanic and two bus drivers – to budget cuts. It also lost funding for its charter bus services, which means that many of the Navajo Reservation’s federally funded schools will have to look elsewhere for charter bus services for their student field trips. It was primarily the schools and students that took advantage of the tribal charter bus service.
I use to ride a tribal transit bus when I was having vehicle troubles and it was convenient and relaxing. I would ride the bus that went from Gallup, N.M., through Window Rock to Tuba City, which is about 180 miles. But I’d only ride it for about five miles. But the $2 ticket price was the same for my five mile ride or the 180 mile ride.
The $2 ticket price has made the transit bus a popular choice and riders have repeatedly asked for expanded route services. Paying $2 definitely helps during these harsh economic times on and off the reservation. The tribal unemployment rate hovers around 40 to 60 percent. Gas prices on the rez are now at $3.35 a gallon. Utilities average about $200 a month.
And a majority of the tribal government’s workers are women, mothers, who are single heads of households that average about 4 children. By the way, child care is a scarcity. One year, maybe 20 years ago, there was a plan to renovate the old tribal library into a child care center for the tribal employees. After all the renovation, the building, which was centrally located, was given to a tribal government program.
As I sat from about noon to about 9 p.m. listening to the Navajo Nation Council delegates debate a proposed $220 million Bond/Loan on Sept. 30, I heard many of them justify why the Bond/Loan was needed, which was to help improve the quality of life on the reservation.
I believe without a doubt that the Navajo Transit System and its $2 bus ticket has improved the quality of reservation. And so why doesn’t the Council and President Ben Shelly open their eyes, ears and hearts to the the pleas of their people, who are only asking to make a service better so their quality of life gets better.
And riding public transportation definitely cuts down on vehicle pollution, which I have heard President Shelly blame for climate change.
The tribal government’s support of the NTS is a win-win strategy for the continuation of life for Mother Earth and for all of us that live on her. Plus we, Dine’, are Mother Earth’s caretakers; we take care of her and she takes care of us.
May Peace Prevail on Mother Earth!