Flinn-Brown Fellow Kate Morley promotes public transportation across northern Arizona

October 23, 2020

By Matt Ellsworth

Kate Morley
Deputy General Manager
Mountain Line

1. Can you please describe your work and how public policy impacts how you manage your organization?

I really enjoy working at the intersection of tough challenges facing our communities. Public transportation provides me that opportunity, as it plays a role in a wide range of issues facing our state and I work hard to make sure we actively engage on them.

One example is that goals for educational attainment are supported by removing transportation barriers for learners, as seen in the use of our free pass program for Coconino Community College students. Economic development is also supported by connecting job seekers to employment and expanding the employee base for businesses who often approach Mountain Line about better access to their business. Others include climate action and congestion by replacing single-occupancy vehicle trips, systemic inequity as low-income and minority populations are less likely to have access to personal vehicles, and affordability by reducing the amount families need to spend on car ownership, estimated at more than $10,000 annually by AAA.

I am able to participate in working groups on all of the above topics and bring transit to the table as a part of the solution. Arizona is one of only a few states across the country that invests zero state dollars into public transit. This puts an immense burden on local communities to support transit on their own. Because of that, Mountain Line works hard to assist other northern Arizona communities in looking at how they can establish and fund transit systems to advance access to transit across the state.

2. How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your work?

Public transit was declared an essential service during the pandemic, and therefore Mountain Line remained open and ready to serve essential workers and trips. We have pivoted to focus more heavily on cleaning, safety protocols and human resource concerns. Assuring our frontline staff are able to manage stress and take care of their mental health during these challenging times has been a priority. Mostly, we are sticking with our mission of getting people where they need to go and committed to continuing to provide quality service. We are very grateful public transit received funding through the CARES Act. Otherwise, our story would be very different.

3. How is your passion for building healthy communities impacting your work in transportation and planning?

My career as a planner started with my interest in getting people physically active and improving health. Public transit has let me stay true to that original mission. Every transit trip starts by walking or bicycling, and commuting by public transit is linked with a lower risk of high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. At the same time, we are helping to get cars off the road and improving air quality, which impacts asthma and other conditions.

Beyond getting to work on these very direct improvements in health, I work closely with bike and pedestrian staff at the city of Flagstaff to create safe and comfortable multimodal infrastructure used not only for commuting but recreation. That infrastructure has broad implications on health across the community. We just submitted a $20 million grant for bike and pedestrian improvements near transit stops. An award like that would nearly double the city’s existing 15-year budget for such infrastructure and make a lasting impact.

4. How has the Fellows Network been useful to you?

I have learned an incredible amount from the Fellows about a broad range of issues and concerns directly from the people working on them. That benefits me in understanding how I might be able to help Arizona achieve goals in other sectors from my own position. In addition to advancing Arizona, I have also deepened and developed friendships. I love walking, or clicking, into a meeting and seeing a member of my cohort there unexpectedly.