More rides

For years, the need for public transportation in the Cape Girardeau area has been identified as a major need. Many older residents either don't have their own transportation to get to the grocery store or doctor's appointments or are no longer able to drive themselves. Many working residents who don't own vehicles find it difficult to get and keep jobs without reliable transportation.

Several transportation studies in the past five-plus years have emphasized the need for better public transportation. Various agencies own vans, hire drivers and provide transportation to a limited clientele. A county transit authority was established to find ways to coordinate and expand those existing services. Indeed, the transit authority's statistics underscore the need for more public transportation. Since 2002, the transit authority, which now operates 10 vans, has seen service increase to 30,000 trips a year from 17,000.

But the various agencies that provide transportation -- transit authority, city taxi coupons, university shuttles, school buses, special vans for disabled riders -- are hamstrung by restrictions that come with state and federal funding. The transit authority, for example, can provide transportation for county residents going to Cape Girardeau but not for Cape Girardeau residents wanting to go somewhere in the city. The taxi coupons can't be used for trips outside the city. The Southeast Missouri State University shuttles can only be used for students.

And on and on it goes.

The best hope for addressing the area's transportation needs, say agencies that are heavily invested already in providing such service, is yet another study, this one funded by the Missouri Department of Transportation with money from the Federal Transportation Administration.

Unlike other studies that have pinpointed the need, the aim of this study will be to find practical ways to combine existing services or expand the availability of the transit system.

Thanks to the United Way of Southeast Missouri and the Community Caring Council, a great deal of attention is being focused on what is called the No. 1 community need: public transportation. Thanks to the county's transit authority, another study is about to commence. Area residents who still find their transportation needs aren't being met will judge the value of another study on what it produces in the way of rides, not thick reports.