•Homer to gain new transportation system
By Naomi Klouda
In about a month, look for two new minivans on Homer roads that will serve for public transportation.
In what is described as a “Homeresque” solution to a problem, the new busing system is a partnership between the Central Area Rural Transit System and two local taxi companies, Kostas and Kachemak Cab. CART bought the two minivans, and turns them over to the cab companies to operate.
To ride the “buses,” anyone can purchases a packet of vouchers. Then each ride is $3 within city boundaries. This would help kids who need to stay after school for activities whose parents are working. It would help when cars are in the shop. It could help anyone who doesn’t own a car.
“This is incredibly creative,” said ILC Executive Director Joyanna Geisler. “We’ve seen people try things (to gain public transportation) but Homer is never going to have People Mover, at least not in my lifetime.”
Cabs have transportation expertise, operate 24 hours, seven days a week and already handle rides on a voucher system for agencies like the Independent Living Center and The Center. Federal grants pay for the vouchers which are then given to clients who are disabled or over the age of 60. Cab companies are paid $7 per ride to average out the higher and lower cost fares, Geisler said. Some fares cost more and some less.
“Already these cab drivers do amazing things. They are working with people in wheel chairs and helping them in and out of the cabs,” Geisler said.
IDC receives Alaska Mental Health Trust Funds of $70,400 to give out to its 85 of clients. It costs that much money to transport people to and from their appointments.
The Cook Inlet Council on Drug and Alcohol Abuse also has clients who need rides and vouchers, but no funding at this point to receive them. Homer Senior Citizens use their own lift-equipped vans, but have residents who rely on cabs for times when the vans aren’t available. South Peninsula Hospital also uses its own transportation, but relies on cabs as well.
“It takes that much money to transport because of the price of gas and a one-way fare to Anchor Point is $30 without a subsidy,” Geisler said.
The new system will help out because it will allow disabled people access to weekend and evening events they currently can’t attend without a wheelchair accessible vehicle to ride there in. It also helps all the agencies to access transportation for the special needs of their clients.
Money for the minivans is coming from the Alaska Department of Transportation.
“The vans and program open to general public is an expansion of the program,” Geisler said. “This (IDL) is only for people over 60 or people with disabilities who cannot drive. It also gets us out of the transportation business and it makes it so that anyone needing lift-equipped transportation, whether they are with an agency or not, has access to transportation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I don’t think any paratransit is open 24-7. They have limited hours and it requires scheduling, whereas taxis are open 24-7. You need a ride and they come and get you. People are able to come and go as they need to.”
Depending on how they configure the seats in the vans, one or two wheelchairs can be grouped with one or two other passengers.
In CARTS arrangement with the two cab companies, Kostas and Kachemak gain the vans for use for free, but will be responsible for maintenance, the more expensive insurance to insure them, and for staffing the rides.
The Homer Coordinated Transportation group began meeting two years ago to try to come up with a plan. Agency leaders and the general public was invited to brainstorm ways to solve Homer’s lack of affordable public transportation.
A consultant was hired to figure out routes and bus schedules as well as what it would cost. In the end, it was “thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Geisler said.
“The way we came down to this particular project expansion was from seeing how beneficial the transportation program at ILC has become and how it lets them go when they need to do it. And it benefits cab companies because it gives them a pot of money they can tap into on a 12-month basis,” Geisler said. “If it worked for the smaller popular, then wouldn’t it be awesome if it works for the general public? In order to take advantage of the federal funding for the public, it needs to have an ADA (American with Disabilities Act) feature. Accessible minivans for the cab companies opens a para-transit situation.”
That other Homer agencies were able to get involved means they were open to changing the way they gain transportation for their clients. It’s described as Homeresc because such a system hasn’t been tried before any place else they know of.
What hasn’t been completely worked out yet is where to purchase the vouchers. IDC is meeting with other agencies to find a central location or shops willing to sell the vouchers to the public. Any business or agency wanting to help can call Geisler at 235-7911.
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