Longtime BART owner selling shuttle company to Jackson couple

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

For 18 years, Ray Duffey has been a mover, of sorts -- in charge of an operation that shuttled tens of thousands of passengers each year across countless miles.

After today, the longtime Bootheel Area Rapid Transportation owner will still be moving.

He'll just be moving on.

Duffey is expected to finalize today the sale of what is better known as BART, a van shuttle service to and from Lambert International Airport in St. Louis, to Tom and Kathy Hecht of Jackson.

Duffey has been at the helm of BART from its inception in 1987 and has watched it grow from one van serving southern Missouri to a 15-van operation also serving Southern Illinois and the Springfield-Decatur area.

But, after 18 years, he felt it was time to sell.

"I just wanted to retire," Duffey said Tuesday. "I had been pretty much semiretired, and that's been working out pretty well. We're going to be doing some traveling, playing some golf. Our grandkids just moved to Dallas, Texas, so we'll be going to Texas a lot."

Duffey said he had some good years at the head of BART and has developed some lasting relationships with employees and customers.

But the vans were emptier after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. An anemic economy depleted vacation funds and an increased fear of flying kept people from needing rides to the airport.

In 2000, BART served 33,629 passengers. But after the attacks, that ridership fell to 29,000, forcing him to cut back on vans and reduce the office staff by two.

In the few years since, things have almost corrected themselves, Duffey said.

"We're trying to build it back up," said Duffey, 66. "We haven't quite, but we're getting close. Last year was our best year since pre-9/11. This year, every month has been better than last year."

So the Hechts are taking over a business on the rise, Duffey said.

Tom Hecht is co-owner of McDowell Ford in Perryville, Mo. Kathy Hecht is leaving her 18-year teaching career to run BART. The Hechts learned that Duffey was interested in selling through their mutual accountant.

They are looking to expand the service, though they don't want to publicly discuss those plans just yet.

"It's something neither of us have really done," Tom Hecht said. "We need to get in there and take three to six months to evaluate and see if there are any changes we could or should make."

Hecht said they plan to keep the employees that work there now. They will be leasing the building. They both say they want to build on BART's good reputation.

"We just want to continue to give the quality service that BART passengers have had in the past," Kathy Hecht said. " ... But I've got to learn the business. Teaching's all I've ever done. Now I'll be the student."

Duffey, meanwhile, says he's selling the business with mixed emotions.

"I've really enjoyed this community," he said. "I've enjoyed building a business here. We have been able to grow because of a lot of fine employees and a lot of loyal customers. It's just time I did other things."

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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