Transit authority, Kelley Transportation still negotiating details

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The two main public transportation entities in Cape Girardeau County are still negotiating details in the county transit authority's buyout of Kelley Transportation Co. Inc. That's why not many details have been released about the future transit system, officials say.

Last week the transit authority announced it has signed a letter of intent to purchase Kelley's transportation business. "At this point our plan is to purchase only the transportation part of Kelley," said Doug Richards, chairman of the transit board. "Which means running the taxi service and any other components of the transportation part of the business."

One of Kelley's transportation services includes Cape Girardeau's subsidy of the taxi-coupon program. The city annually takes bids in April for the taxi coupon service, but Kelley routinely is the only bidder.

Richards said the transit authority never bid on Cape Girardeau's subsidy of the taxi-coupon program because it receives grant money through the Missouri Department of Transportation. A stipulation of receiving state and federal funds means the transit authority can't compete with private businesses, he said.

'Doesn't look right'

"Our objective is to never put the private businessman out of business," Richards said. "It's just wrong and doesn't look right."

Kelley also runs a courier service and contracts with different businesses, including the Workforce Investment Board.

Transit authority director Jeff Brune said Kelley contracts with local banks to transport original documents to different branches.

The transit authority could expand the courier services, Brune said. "But it's all still in negotiations," he said. "Running the courier service as a separate business would be a way for us to raise local matches for our grants."

To obtain federal funds for vehicles and capital expenses, the transit authority has to come up with a 20 percent match. For operations, the federal government requires a 50 percent match.

Brune said Paducah, Ky., has a successful public transit system and also operates a courier service.

24-hour service to continue

With numerous details to work out in the authority's buyout of Kelley Transportation, Richards said the authority plans to release all details as soon as they're finalized. But Richards said there shouldn't be any concerns about whether the authority will accept the taxi coupons, and a 24-hour taxi service will continue to run.

"The present level of service will be maintained, and if anything we will be increasing the services," he said. "The citizens who bought these coupons will receive the same level of service."

Richards said the plan to buy out Kelley Transportation has been kept secret because the transit authority signed confidentiality agreements with Kelley. "Had we violated any of the agreements, we could have derailed the entire thing and left the Cape County Transit Authority board liable," he said. "This was all done ethically and legally because we were negotiating property in closed sessions. We are obligated, under law, to keep this on a need-to-know basis."

Main problem

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

A Virginia consulting firm, BMI-SG, reported last fall on possible solutions to the problems faced by public transit in Cape Girardeau County. The Missouri Department of Transportation paid the company $225,000 to conduct the review.

Brune said the consulting firm has completed a first draft of the public transportation study, but he did not know when results would be released to the public.

Richards said the thrust of the study is already known. "It's going to say that Cape County needs an expanded system and the Cape County Transit Authority is the best one to put that in place."

Richards said the Kelley buyout is part of that plan.

"We are simply moving ahead to meet the future needs of Cape Girardeau County," he said. "We've still got a lot of work to do, but you're not going to see a decline in service."

Richards added that everyone's transportation needs will be covered.

jfreeze@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 246

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