Vision problem makes need for Valley Transit clear

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You may recall that throughout my public life I have been fairly vocal and passionate about numerous issues facing our community and many candidates running for public office. There has never been an issue more important to me personally and a host of other individuals in our community than Proposition 1, which will be on the Feb. 9 ballot. This is a measure to increase funding for our public transportation system, Valley Transit.

This ballot measure is not a political issue, but a community issue and the requested sales tax increase amounts to 3 cents on a $10 purchase, a nominal amount considering the benefit to our community.

I would like to share a little of my personal history and professional experience with you so you have my perspective of why I believe Valley Transit is so important to our community.

In my late 20s, I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a genetic eye disease in which there is damage to the retina.

The damage progresses over time and symptoms include decreased vision at night or in low light, loss of peripheral vision and in advanced cases, loss of central vision.

There is no effective treatment for RP and the condition may eventually lead to blindness, but usually not complete blindness. RP is an uncommon condition affecting about 1 in 4,000 people in the United States and there are over 200 forms of RP.

I have been very fortunate throughout my life as the RP progressed slowly but in October 2005, as luck would have it, I was diagnosed with shingles in my right eye. That eventually destroyed the cornea resulting in my decision to quit driving in July 2008.

I had ceased driving at night over 20 years ago and subsequently was very fortunate to have family, friends and colleagues who were willing to transport me in the evening and I will be eternally grateful to all of those individuals.

Since I quit driving, I still have friends willing to provide transportation, however, I have managed to maintain some of my independence by walking and having the option of taking Valley Transit, Dial-A-Ride and on Saturdays the Connector van to do errands, go to appointments, etc.

Based on the Port of Walla Walla Web site, nearly 20 percent of our county population (58,600) is over the age of 60, a good share of whom, like me, are baby boomers. Compromised vision isn’t the only condition that may keep an individual from driving. People experience many different medical conditions that render them unable to drive. Mine is just one story and there are so many more in our community.

As a former county commissioner, I was a member of the Valley Transit Board of Directors for eight years. I have first-hand knowledge of the management style, board policies and the frugality with which the transit system operates.

The staff has been very successful over the years in procuring grants; a cost saving to the local taxpayers. Several years ago, as you will recall, the state motor vehicle excise tax was eliminated, literally cutting Valley Transit revenues in half. Routes were markedly revised and some were eliminated completely.

I was on the Valley Transit Board at that time and discontinuing routes that people truly needed was a very difficult but necessary decision.

Many of the downtown merchants’ employees ride the bus to work and those businesses are also supported by individuals who ride Valley Transit.

The Walla Walla School District relies on Valley Transit to subsidize its bus system and many students use Valley Transit to attend classes at our local colleges.

Without Valley Transit, Walla Walla Public School District may need additional funding for buses and drivers or may reduce the area in which students are entitled to ride the bus.

Tourists utilize our transit system, which in turn supports our local economy. When a potential business is considering locating in Walla Walla, public transportation is an attractive element of our community and the examples go on and on.

An individual’s independence is the last thing one would want to lose. Many of us have taken our ability to drive for granted; however, if you one day find yourself unable to drive, believe me, you will be glad to have the option of taking Valley Transit.

I ask that you put yourself in those shoes for just a brief moment.

Ballots were mailed on Friday to all registered voters living within the designated Public Transit Benefit Authority boundary, which consists of the Walla Walla and College Place public school district boundaries.

Again, the requested sales tax increase amounts to just 3 cents on a $10 purchase. I hope you share my view that this requested increase is well worth the investment in our community.

Remember hearing the old proverb — "There but for the grace of God, go I?"

Let your conscience guide your vote on Proposition 1.

Pam Ray is a former Walla Walla County commissioner and former county clerk.

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