A purple bench sits in front of Audrey Graham's home on the side of Murphy Lane. The bench is the first of what Graham hopes to be many as part of a grass roots public transportation system in the Moab area. [Photo by Kristin Millis/ Moab Sun News]

Former Grand County councilwoman Audrey Graham believes in public transportation. But, she believes, it can occur organically as neighbors give one another a ride as necessary.

It all starts with volunteers placing purple benches in their yard. It grows as people needing rides signal that they need one by sitting on the benches. And, it flourishes as drivers having room in their cars stop to give a ride.

“It is a simple, homegrown, non-governmental solution to the lack of public transportation,” Graham said. “This is about individual responsibility and community self-reliance.”

Graham has a purple bench in her front yard on Murphy Lane. She’s used it three times to catch a ride into town.

“I knew someone was going to the same events and I was going to be picked up,” Graham said. “Two of those times another person stopped to offer a ride.”

Graham said a third of the local population can’t drive due to age, disability or lack of a car.

“A community our size cannot afford a local bus system,” she said. “The resource is already here and no tax dollars are needed.”

She and other citizens who see the purple bench idea as a public transportation solution have been meeting regularly for the past few months. They acquired a WabiSabi grant to provide education about the idea. They are now working with Dove Hansen, a Grand County High School student, to create a bench design that would safe and inexpensive for private homeowners to build.

“Homeowners could decide on their own to buy and build a bench on their property,” said Tom Brown, a purple bench committee member. “A good design will give them an option to have a bench that is sturdy and easy to build.”

Bill and Damon Foy attended the purple bench meeting held at the library Thursday, Jan. 24. As owners of Moab Taxi cab service they shared their concerns that the purple bench concept poses risks to both drivers and passengers.

“You’re putting yourself in danger by picking up the person on the bench, or putting yourself in danger by getting in the car,” Bill Foy said. “You should just paint a big red target on it for the pedophiles.”

Graham emphasized that in order for the program to work, both riders and drivers need to use good judgment.

“No one is forcing you to stop and pick up that person. No one is forcing you to get in the car,” Graham said.

The Foys presented a copy of a state traffic code and highlighted this excerpt: “A person may not sit, stand, or loiter on or near a roadway for the purpose of soliciting from the occupant of a vehicle (a) a ride.”

“It would be encouraging people to be unsafe and do something illegal,” Foy said.

However, county attorney Andrew Fitzgerald said that the traffic code was in reference to loitering and would not be applicable to purple benches sitting on private property.

“If someone wants to put a purple bench in their yard, they are giving that person a license or inviting that person onto their property,” Fitzgerald said. “The owner can revoke that license at any time.”

Fitzgerald said the only time a deputy may arrest someone is if someone sat on the bench all day not looking for a ride and the property owner wanted the person gone.

“Then it would be criminal trespass or loitering,” he said.

Sheriff Steve White said that he had to look at it from a public safety point of view.

“I do have concerns about teenaged kids being picked up and drivers being safe,” he said.

Fitzgerald said that he saw some “really big public safety issues.”

“You can get in the car with someone and there is an accident. If they don’t have insurance, you’re not covered,” Fitzgerald said. “When you get in the car, you don’t know if they’re a good driver or intoxicated. That person getting in the car is assuming a lot of problems.”

He expressed concern that if this becomes prevalent within the community, it may be seen as a safe form of transportation, even though it is unregulated.

“There is an assumption when they see that type of structure set up that it is safe. It may give people a false sense of security. There should be an assumption of risk by the person being picked up,” Fitzgerald said. “At some point if this is going on and someone considers this safe and regulated, you might see the government step in and put warnings up, or even if the government doesn’t otherwise get involved.”

Graham acknowledged there are risks, but stated that fear shouldn’t prevent us from helping each other.

“We as a community can figure this out,” Graham said. “We need to step forward with solutions and sometimes take chances.”

Vivian Klocko, a citizen who attended the meeting to learn more, summed up why she thought the purple bench concept would work.

“People give people rides because people are kind,” Klocko said.