80 use bus on opening day

Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Peg Wolf got on the bus at one of the stops Monday.

Kimberly Dunning was ready.

Ready for reliable transportation. Ready for more convenient service. Ready for the bus.

Dunning and her 3-year-old daughter, Zoe Glueck, rode the new Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority bus Monday afternoon, taking a ride through the city and doing some shopping before getting off just blocks from her North Street home.

Dunning said she realizes the system isn't perfect yet. In places there are several blocks between boarding stops. But to get off the bus, passengers have only to pull a signal cord and the driver will pull over at the first convenient, safe place.

"I really like it," she said. "They've still got some tweaking to do, but it is going to help out a lot of people."

For $35 Dunning purchased a monthly pass, providing unlimited rides. The same pass for senior citizens and people with disabilities is $17.50, both steep discounts for frequent users over the single-ride fares of $1.50 and 75 cents, respectively.

Children under 6 ride at no cost, while youngsters 6 to 12 pay 75 cents.

Day passes, which can be purchased as riders board, allow unlimited use on that day for $4 for the general public and $2.50 for seniors and disabled people.

Use exact change

But be careful to use exact change. The fare box sign says "no refunds," and drivers can't access the cash.

Eighty people rode the bus line on the first day, transit authority director Jeff Brune said.

"I really didn't have any expectations," he said. "I just had no idea. People just started hearing about this a month and a half ago. People still have questions, and they just don't understand yet. It will take awhile."

When the first bus pulled away Monday morning from the Broadway Plaza at 937 Broadway, every seat was full. It was the first bus to operate a regularly scheduled route in Cape Girardeau in 37 years.

The dozen riders, however, weren't there because they needed transportation. County Commissioner Jay Purcell and Cape Girardeau Councilwoman Marcia Ritter were there to show support. Some, such as probation officer Peg Wolf, were there to get firsthand information they can give to clients.

"We constantly have our clients complaining about transportation problems," Wolf said. "We were really glad to see the transit system in operation."

The transit authority kicked off service at 6 a.m. During the second trip, which began 40 minutes later, patrons using the bus for regular transportation were starting to climb aboard, Brune said.

The transit authority operates the bus service weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. from its offices at 937 Broadway. Saturday service will run from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. No buses will run on Sundays or holidays.

Buses run eastbound through downtown to Spanish Street, cut back west along William Street, then head south on Sprigg Street to Linden Street. After returning north along West End Boulevard, the route loops east again along William Street to Save-A-Lot food store. The bus returns to Broadway for a trip west to shopping at Schnucks and West Park Mall, medical care at Saint Francis Medical Center and Cross Trails Medical Center and turns around for the return trip after stops at Target, Sears and Wal-Mart.

'Extremely satisfying'

For Purcell, the bus ride was the culmination of more than a year of work to bring public transportation under a single agency. Prior to July 1, the transit authority operated outside city limits while public transportation inside Cape Girardeau was provided by a private taxi company, Kelley Transportation Co. Inc., through a subsidized program with strict limits on usage.

"It is extremely satisfying," Purcell said. "This has been on the top of every needs assessment in the county for years."

Driving the first run fell to Steve Colbert, a former postal employee who has worked for the transit authority for eight days. As he reached each stop, Colbert called out the location -- a federal requirement -- and held the bus until he matched the location with the timetable.

"If I can be there, get them there on time and get them up the stairs, my day is as helpful as anyone's," he said.

Everyone on hand to board the first bus or watch it depart praised the new system as an improvement.

Linda Garner from the Safe House for Women was enthusiastic about the service's ability to improve the lives of her clients. "The majority of our women at the shelter don't have any transportation," she said. "In the past it was hit-and-miss. This will be a much more predictable means of transportation."

Tory Charlier, a registered nurse with Southeast Missouri Hospital's Generations Family Resource Center, said many of the women who take part in classes lack adequate transportation.

The Cape Girardeau County Health Department on Linden Street expects to see a lot of clients using the bus, director Charlotte Craig said. She climbed aboard a bus at 10:20 a.m. just to get a look. "It was incredible," Craig said. "It is such a major step. It is such a gift for this community."

By afternoon, the bus service had settled into a routine. The early inspections were over, leaving the service, for the most part, to those who will become regular users.

Along with Dunning and her daughter, the bus that traveled east on Broadway carried Francine Cumberly, a Lindenwood Apartments resident who was riding on a senior citizen pass, and John Hill, 83, who drove from his home on Kage Road to see the bus for himself.

Both Dunning and Cumberly used the coupon program and neither had much good to say about how it worked. Dunning said she had waited as long as four hours for a taxi, and Cumberly said she has waited 2 1/2 hours.

"This is better than it used to be," she said. "I bet it is going to work out good."

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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