Contract confusion

Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Pamela Larson, right, was assisted onto the Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority van Tuesday after finding out that a bus ride she thought was going to cost her $1 was instead $8.50. (Don Frazier)

Questions about exactly how much a taxi ride now costs in Cape Girardeau and who is eligible for discounted rides are creating confusion for patrons of the expanded Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority.

Basic taxi rates increased $1 from those charged by Kelley Transportation Co. Inc. prior to the transit authority's takeover of the taxi service June 30. But contracts signed by the authority with funding agencies provide steeply discounted rides to some people riding for specific reasons.

People with certified disabilities who live within three-fourths of a mile of the new bus route can use a service mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act to reach any destination also within three-fourths of a mile of the bus route. Known as parartransit service, the cost is $3.

Another twist to the system is a call-ahead feature. People who book taxi service 24 hours or more in advance receive service for half the regular fare. The transit authority will allow rides to be booked up to a week in advance, executive director Jeff Brune said.

If the multiple-choice fare system sounds confusing, that's because it is, acknowledged Brune. Sometimes dispatchers make mistakes, he said Tuesday, adding that the high demand for taxi services can magnify the problem.

"We have done 200 taxi trips in the last two days," Brune said. "We are overwhelmed with trip requests, and we are trying to meet the demand for service as best we can."

The 200 trips within two days compares to about 200 taxi requests a week for Kelley Transportation, Brune said.

Pamela Larson, who uses a wheelchair, was caught in the confusion Tuesday. She called for a ride from her Minnesota Avenue home to the Common Pleas Courthouse and was told the ride was covered by the transit authority's contract with the Southeast Missouri Area Agency on Aging.

That contract pays for up to 600 rides a month for eligible senior citizens and people with disabilities. There is no cost, but riders are expected to make a donation of at least $1 to defray the expense.

While on the road, Larson said, the driver told her the cost would be $8.50 because the Common Pleas Courthouse is not an approved stop for the aging agency contract. That contract restricts rides to trips to doctors offices and pharmacies or trips for nutrition, such as groceries or a senior center.

When the driver learned she didn't have enough money, Larson said, the dispatcher said to drop her at the first convenient location. Fortunately, Larson said, the driver took her to her destination.

As Larson described her situation at the Southeast Missourian offices nearby, the heavy rain that fell off and on Tuesday returned.

Larson used the city taxi coupon program prior to July 1. It allowed disabled residents to purchase coupons for 14 taxi rides each month for $1 each.

When the coupons ran out, she said, "I didn't go anywhere or I'd find a ride."

After a call from the Southeast Missourian, the transit authority sent a wheelchair-accessible van that drove her home for $1. "I know it is hard to get the kinks worked out," Larson said.

The Area Agency on Aging contract must limit where users may go because it has limited funds for transportation, said Ruth Dockins, spokeswoman for the agency. "A thing people have got to be aware of is that there is never enough funding to subsidize every senior's ride to the doctor or the drug store."

The other major contract underwriting the taxi service also concentrates on medical care. Users of Medicaid, the state-federal program of medical care for the poor, are eligible for no-cost, non-emergency transportation to a medical provider. Those rides, however, must be booked three days in advance through Logisticare, the state contractor, Brune said.

To reduce confusion, Brune said, the transit authority will be creating a temporary call center that will guide callers to either a dispatcher for immediate service or to someone able to answer questions about the services.

As he spoke about the need for better communication, Brune noted that all six incoming lines to the transit authority office were in use. "We are just scrambling. We are playing defense here, trying to fix problems as they come up."

The telephone number for Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority is 335-5533.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611 extension 126

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