Giving children a lift

Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Brian Schumer, 7, turned around in his seat as Pat King played a game of I Spy with Jaya Emanuel, 8, Monday during the 20-minute Cape County Transit bus ride from the Ole Country Store on South Sprigg Street to the Cape Girardeau Public Library. The Family Resource Center set up the trip as part of its summer camp activities to teach the children about public transportation. (AARON EISENHAUER ~aeisenhauer@semissourian.com)

Various groups in Cape Girardeau have organized programs to help disadvantaged youth. But what good are those programs if the children can't get there?

Now that Cape Girardeau has an established bus route system, the Family Resource Center at 1202 S. Sprigg St. is teaching children how to use it.

Seven-year-old Tyzhon Twiggs learned the benefits of public transit Monday by taking his first ride on a city bus.

"It was kind of good. You get to stop places," he said after getting off a Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority bus at the public library on Clark Avenue.

Jasmine Beard, 7, hopped off a CTA bus Monday at the Cape Girardeau Public Library. The bus made all the usual stops along the way to teach children about public transportation.

Twiggs was one of six children, ages 7 and 8, who got a first-hand look at the Cape Girardeau County transit system.

The bus ride was part of the Family Resource Center's summer camp program on the city's south side. The children were accompanied by center director Pat King, a camp staffer and two junior volunteers.

Last week, the center's staff took middle-school-age children in the summer camp on a transit ride.

'Part of our tool box'

Family Resource Center manager Denise Lincoln said the goal is to educate children from the low-income neighborhoods about the bus system and encourage their families to use the public transportation system.

Lincoln said most Cape Gir-ardeau residents have little or no experience with the public bus system. They don't know where the bus stops are, what the route is or how much it costs, she said.

"Until we experience it, it really doesn't become part of our tool box," Lincoln said.

"It usually is considered second-class transportation, but this is first-class transportation," she said of the bus system.

Many of the children in the Family Resource Center summer camp -- which serves about 30 children a day from late June through late July -- haven't participated in organized activities this summer, Lincoln said. "Part of it is lack of awareness. Part of it is lack of money. But a lot of it is lack of transportation," she said.

A bus system can give children and families the means to attend such activities.

"For years, there was a plea and cry that we need public transportation," Lincoln said. "Well now we have got it, we now need to teach a generation how to use public transportation."

That means showing them where and when the buses stop and how much it costs to ride, she said.

King said educating children at an early age about public transportation is important. "This way, at least, they won't be scared of getting on a bus," she said.

Rave reviews

Monday's bus ride got high marks from Jasmine Beard, 7. "I thought it was great," she said after a 20-minute ride from the Ole Country Store to the Cape Girardeau Public Library. "I'd ride it every day," she said.

She and the other children spent about an hour at the library before boarding a bus for the longer return trip.

Keliah Miles, 8, said, "I thought riding on the bus was really cool."

She had a quick answer as to why some people could benefit from the bus system. "Sometimes people's cars break down," she said.

Tom Mogelnicki, director of the Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority, welcomed the efforts of the Family Resource Center to educate children about the year-old bus system.

"Not enough people know what is available to them," he said.

For this transit lesson, the bus system charged the children only 25 cents each.

Mogelnicki said he didn't want children to think that the bus service is free. They need to realize they are required to pay to ride, he said.

Normally, the charge is 75 cents one-way for children, disabled people and the elderly. For everyone else, the cost is $1.50 one way. Children younger than 7 can ride for free.

Future plans

The transit system currently runs two buses on a single route. But Mogelnicki said the transit authority plans to start operating buses on two routes by mid-September.

"We will actually divide our existing route into two routes," he said.

One bus will cover the east side of town and the other will run a route through the west part of the city.

That should make the transit service more convenient for passengers, Mogelnicki said.

Currently, it can take an hour or more for passengers to get to their drop-off points.

The bus ride from the library to South Sprigg Street covers a route that first takes passengers to Wal-Mart and other stops on the west side of the city before heading back east.

Mogelnicki said the expanded bus system will include a stop at the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center starting this fall, as well as stops on the Southeast Missouri State University campus.

The career center stop will make it easier for people to get post-secondary career skills, he said.

Public transit in Cape Girardeau largely serves the elderly, low-income and disabled residents, Mogelnicki said.

The bus system serves about 500 to 600 people a week. Most of them live in neighborhoods south of Broadway, he said.

Mogelnicki hopes to increase ridership by offering free rides on the last Saturday of each month. The promotion began this month. The next free-ride day will be Aug. 25, he said.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 12

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