Board urges boost in transit funding

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority will receive a 73 percent boost in funding to make rides cheaper for older residents if the Senior Citizens Service Fund Board recommendations are adopted as part of the county budget for 2007.

The increase, to $95,000 from the current level of $55,000, is by far the largest increase for any of the 21 programs the board will fund with $482,630 it allocated earlier this month. The increase will allow the transportation provider to cut fares for senior citizens needing rides between Jackson and Cape Girardeau, increase the number of elderly who are getting cut-rate rides from outlying county towns and lower fares within Jackson and Cape Girardeau, board chairman Dale Rauh said.

"We are trying to assist what the United Way and others have identified as a real need in the community," Rauh said.

The board's recommendations were presented Monday to the Cape Girardeau County Commission, which must approve the spending. Transit authority director Jeff Brune could not be reached for comment on Monday.

The transit authority took over the provision of taxi service in Cape Girardeau on July 1 and began a regular bus service through the city a week later.

The services fund board turned down a request for $40,000 for the transit authority in June, citing a lack of available money and specifics on how it would be used.

Soon after taking over taxi service, the authority began experiencing a shortfall between demand and the number of reduced-cost rides available through the Area Agency on Aging contract. Those rides are free to the older residents, but the transit agency asks for small donations, usually $1, to defray costs.

When that money is gone each month, riders must pay full fare, which can be as much as $14 one-way from Jackson.

"What they showed us was a pricing structure that would be more palatable," board member Weldon Macke said.

Brune spoke with the board twice to convince them the extra funding was needed, Rauh said. At the second meeting, Brune proposed a voucher system that would make it more convenient for seniors to make their donations by purchasing a set of coupons rather than paying in cash each time they received a ride.

"We wanted expanded services outside the areas of Jackson and Cape Girardeau so that the entire county is serviced," he said. "We would like to see some other possibilities there."

-- Rudi Keller

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