Residents unsure if transit authority will honor taxi coupons

Monday, March 20, 2006

The director of the transit authority said they are still trying to determine what to do with the coupons.

Users of Cape Girardeau's taxi coupon program worry their coupons won't be valid once the countywide transit authority merges with the city's taxi coupon program.

Last week officials announced the Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority signed a letter of intent to purchase Kelley Transportation Co. Inc., the city's lone cab service. Public officials and cab company owners Kimberly and Terrence Kelley have offered few details about the deal, but Doug Richards, chairman of the transit authority board, said the potential for improving public transit is enormous.

With numerous details still to be worked out by the transit authority, taxi-coupon users fear the worst.

"Me and my husband still have 17 coupons and I've heard they're going to cut out the taxi coupons. That's $21 down the drain if we can't use them," said Christy Parr, who lives on North Spanish Street.

Taxi coupon users are limited to 14 coupons per month -- with no time limit of when the coupons must be used. Coupon users like Parr and her husband save the coupons until they need to travel somewhere too far to walk.

The coupons cost $2, with seniors and disabled people receiving coupons for $1 each. Only two people per household can purchase a set of 14 coupons and only one person can purchase a set of disabled coupons. Both Parr and her husband Troy are disabled, meaning the couple can only purchase one set of coupons at the discount rate.

Jeff Brune, director of the transit authority, said there are still many details to work out to combine both operations.

"We don't want someone who has $200 worth of taxi coupons in their hands not be able to use them," Brune said. "We are still trying to determine what to do with the taxi coupons. We're going to try and make it as fair as possible."

Parr believes the transit authority's buyout of Kelley Transportation will work on three conditions: improved taxicab conditions, more taxicab drivers and keeping the current taxi coupon program available.

"My problems with the cabs is that they haven't been keeping them up," Parr said. "Some of the cabs don't even have seat belts."

Brune said he was unaware of the condition of the Kelley taxicabs. The transit authority plans to buy newer vehicles and use its current inventory of vans, he said.

Currently the authority owns eight minivans, three wheelchair vans and two 15-passenger vans.

"We'll check out the Kelley's inventory but we plan on expanding our fleet to cover the whole county," Brune said.

Nathan Cromwell, who also lives on North Spanish Street, also questions what will happen to the taxi coupons users have previously purchased. Like others, he criticizes some of the service he has received from Kelley in the past.

Taxi coupon users have often complained about the length of time it takes to get a cab. Some have said they've waited hours for service.

Cromwell said he often uses the Designated Driver shuttle when he needs a ride. Designated Driver is a privately owned cab service that began operating in the city last November.

"I'm getting sick and tired of the whole thing," Cromwell said about public transportation inside the county. "Designated Driver is a lot nicer cab and is more efficient. They won't even tell you now how long it's going to be when you are waiting for a Kelley cab."

Transit authority officials continue to say the merger will offer improved and more efficient public transportation inside Cape Girardeau County.

"There are still many details we have to work out and it's going to take some time," Brune said.

By this summer, Brune hopes to have those details worked out and a functioning countywide public transit system in operation.

Limitations on public transportation have repeatedly been the area's No. 1 problem, according to surveys conducted by the United Way of Southeast Missouri.

Nancy Jernigan, executive director of the United Way of Southeast Missouri, said the merger of the two transit programs is a move in the right direction.

"I think it's tremendous," she said. "It's a very good move and something we've all been hoping for awhile. I applaud the county for stepping forward and creating the transit authority."

jfreeze@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 246

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