Transit authority struggles with growth

Monday, February 17, 2003

Joan McKenzie, 74, uses the Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority almost every day to visit the Jackson Senior Center.

Anita Moore, 33, uses it whenever she needs to go to the store or to the doctor since a seizure condition has forced her to quit driving.

They are just two of the more than 13,000 passengers who will make more than 25,000 trips via the transit system this year. That's more than triple the number of trips and passengers in 1997.

Jeff Brune, the executive director of the Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority, has been given a task to increase the awareness and the overall use of the transit authority.

There's only one problem with that. The transit authority, funded mostly by federal taxes, isn't seeing increases in federal appropriations.

He already got an additional $18,500 from the county. On Monday, he asked the Jackson Board of Aldermen to add to the city's $200 per-month contributions, and the board is considering that request.

Plan to sell ads on vans

Soon he'll become more active in asking the local business community to chip in. He has developed a plan to sell advertising on the sides of the transit authority's 10 vans. The rates have not yet been ironed out, but Brune said the advertising would generate about $90,000 per year and cost advertisers about $5 or $6 per day.

Brune said the organization is not in desperate shape, but the authority does have a hard time making ends meet when it is waiting for its reimbursement check to come back from the government. The advertising dollars would help cover the costs during that waiting period, he said.

"We want to target a lot of people we bring business to," Brune said. "A lot of people think of mobility as a service we provide, and it is, but people tend to forget the economic impact we have. Whether we're taking them to Wal-Mart or Country Mart, we're taking people to spend money."

The transit authority operates from a $334,800 budget. Of that, $254,700 comes from federal money. The transit authority will get the same amount of federal dollars in the next fiscal year as it did last year.

And that's not an ideal situation for Brune, considering the boom the authority has seen in recent years.

In fiscal year 1997, 4,091 riders took 7,686 trips. In fiscal year 2002, 13,722 riders took 27,229 trips.

The number of trips made within the city limits of Jackson has gone from 5,849 in 1999 to 9,118 in 2002.

More people, like Moore, are finding out about the authority.

"I saw the vans, but I just thought it was the same one and I just saw it everywhere," said Moore, who was just using the service for the second time on Friday. "I didn't realize they had so many vans. It's wonderful. My husband works for the railroad and he's in and out and sometimes he's gone for days at a time and I'm here with no transportation."

More miles, more drivers

The miles have gone up, the number of drivers has increased and so have the number of vans. The authority organizes as many as 130 trips in a day Monday through Friday. Brune said he is trying to organize satellite offices in Oak Ridge and Delta to save on gas money. He said he hopes that a church or other organization in those communities will allow the authority to set up shop one day every week there.

The authority has a staff of 14 people; 13 of them can drive vans and two of those remain in the office as dispatchers.

One transit patron after another bragged about the service that those employees provide.

The drivers escort their riders to the door and help them buckle in if they need it. The drivers know many of the riders well and know where they live without having to ask.

"They pick me up and bring me back," said McKenzie. "You can't beat these drivers; they're very courteous."

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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