Proposed purchase of taxi company by transit authority deserves a chance

Thursday, March 23, 2006

By Maryann "Miki" Gudermuth

A great deal of negative speculation is going on within the community on how the transfer of ownership from Kelley Transportation Co. to the Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority is going to affect current riders. As a transportation provider for people with disabilities in Cape Girardeau, I would like to add a few insights of my own.

I have been involved with the transportation issues facing residents of both the county and city for more than 10 years and have been a passionate and vocal proponent of a change to the way transportation has been provided.

SEMO Alliance for Disability Independence started a shuttle service in response to the concerns of people with disabilities and to fill an unmet need because nobody had any answers and because no one was willing to face up to the territorial contractual issues that had long prevented any constructive dialogue before now. We are not perfect, but we have always tried to make a positive difference in the lives of people with disabilities. Here we are talking about transportation for everyone without a car, not just people with disabilities. That is a big undertaking.

Over the years, I have come to know the people involved with the county transit authority. Historically, I have not always agreed with some members of the transit authority, nor they with me. But one thing we have shared in common is that we care about existing transportation problems and have spent a great deal of time studying the issues.

United Way of Southeast Missouri has been involved in these studies over the past several years. The Missouri Department of Transportation has been active in conducting public transportation hearings during the past year at various locations throughout Cape Girardeau and in Jackson. As usual, only a small number of people turned out for these hearings. However, those people in attendance were users of the current transportation system, with some providing thoughtful insight to the problems and others helping to problem solve.

I believe that what has occurred between Terrence and Kim Kelley and transit authority members is a monumental meeting of the minds: a fair consensus that something needs to be done to address the transportation concerns raised during these public hearings, and agreement that they would move forward with it. That has been the difference between studies of the past and what is happening now: forward movement.

Although I had been on a transportation advisory panel, I was unaware of any plans to purchase the transportation system from Kelley, as were many others. However, I am confident that failure to disclose details of the purchase arrangement between the Kelleys and the transit authority's board has not been a cover-up to circumvent the will of the residents of this community. Nor do I presume that they would use taxpayer dollars in violation of any applicable laws regarding not-for-profit contractual agreements as some Speak Out callers would suggest. Also, I do not believe anyone on the taxi-coupon program will see anything but improvements in the way the program operates.

Problems with transportation were not created overnight and will not be solved overnight. I would ask that the concerned people of this community allow a fair and reasonable amount of time for all the details to come out before anticipating the worst of this provider change. The county transit authority has had a positive countywide transportation track record all these years. Nonetheless, there will be growing pains. There always are with a monumental change like this one. Faith is needed when human understanding fails us. I sometimes have to remind myself of this fact.

Cape Girardeau city and county residents who depend on public transportation are anxious for positive change. All eyes will be watching as this innovative transportation system unfolds. Stay tuned.

Maryann "Miki" Gudermuth is executive director of SEMO Alliance for Disability Independence in Cape Girardeau.

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