Transit board polishing bus route details

Thursday, May 18, 2006

With just more than six weeks to go before Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority takes over all public transportation in the county, details of the transition are falling into place.

A map of the bus route for Cape Girardeau is almost finished, and the price and hours of operation for the route have been set. The authority is moving forward with preparing new offices, a contract with the Southeast Missouri Area Agency on Aging is in the works and the board is considering how to reflect the new duties in a new name.

The authority board is conducting weekly meetings to finalize those items, as well as discussing the need to hire additional drivers and whether purchasing fuel in bulk would help save money.

The county transit authority plans to buy Kelley Transportation Co. Inc. for $360,000, although the contract hasn't been signed yet. The purchase, which transit authority director Jeff Brune hopes to complete "soon" will consolidate public transpiration in one entity with the power to provide rides to any point in the county without consideration of municipal boundaries.

The most visible change will be the regular bus service on a route that loops through the south side of Cape Girardeau, runs through downtown and then west to provide service to hospitals, groceries stores and shopping.

Fares on the bus, which will run from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., will be $1.50 for adults and $1 for seniors and the disabled, said Jeff Brune, executive director for the authority.

There will be some bugs in the beginning, Brune said. The Cape Giardeau City Council, for example, must approve the placement of bus stops, with the no-parking zones and signs needed to mark them.

At first, he said, riders may need to hail the bus driver by waving at them. And the number of bus stops will be a consideration that must balance rider convenience with the need to keep traffic moving.

"Everything that is open looks like a stop, but then you have 40 stops," Brune said at Wednesday's board meeting.

The authority has ordered three buses to operate along the route, with hopes of keeping two buses running throughout the day. That should mean that the maximum wait for a bus would be 30 to 40 minutes. "There will be some hiccups, but for the most part we will be ready to go," Brune said.

For point-to-point rides, the authority has decided to use a zone system rather than charge customers based on miles traveled. Doug Richards, chairman of the authority board, said taxi services will be available around the clock, seven days a week.

But to make the program work, board members said, the authority must hire more drivers. Each applicant must go through a nationwide criminal background check, pass a drug test and submit to random drug tests while employed.

Taxi drivers will be paid $6 an hour plus 11 percent of their fares.

The favored option for a new name is "Trans Link." Other names bandied about at Wednesday's meeting include "Cape Transit Link" and "Cape Connect."

The name will be an important part of the marketing blitz planned around the launch date of the new services, Richards said. "We need that identity coming out of the gate on July 1."

Other issues discussed Wednesday included plans to keep the Kelley Transportation telephone number operating for up to a year past the start of the new service to avoid confusion among riders. And the authority will start running vans in Cape Girardeau during June to augment existing services and to provide drivers with training.

Two sources of funding aren't secure yet, board members were told. Brune said he's pursuing a donation from the United Way, since the charity has issued repeated reports calling transportation the main need of the community.

And the authority hopes to sign a contract with the agency on aging to subsidize transportation for senior citizens with limited means, Brune said.

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