The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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April 18, 2014

Funding shortfall could hinder public transportation in Southeast Kansas

PITTSBURG, Kan. — For the past two years, Pittsburg State University sophomore Travis Cook has been using public transportation to get to and from his classes.

He began using the bus his freshman year, when he didn’t have a vehicle to drive even to the grocery store — which is said to be the case for many who use the service.

But because of a shortfall in local funding, come July 1 changes are in store for the transportation service provided by the Southeast Kansas Community Action Program. A public meeting with SEK-CAP officials is scheduled for 10 a.m. today at the Pittsburg Public Library to outline possible changes to the transportation services.

While officials say the elimination of some on-demand transportation services are likely unless other funding sources are found, the impact to the service used by Cook is less certain but does include a possibility of elimination. The latter service, Pittsburg Area Community Transportation, is a standard bus service operated from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday with stops at popular retail, educational and service locations throughout town.

The decrease in funding, officials say, could cause a redesign of the route and/or reduction in the number stops on it. That route accounts for 71 percent of rides provided in Crawford County.

Although Cook now has a vehicle, he continues to use the service because it saves time and he doesn’t have to purchase a parking permit from the university. Users are asked to pay 50 cents per ride, but no one is rejected if he or she cannot pay.

“It’s a lot more convenient,” Cook said while riding the bus to class Friday, “because it picks you right up from where you need to go. Plus it matches perfectly with my schedule.”

Cook said all of his friends use the service, which is partially funded by PSU, on a near daily basis. But it’s not just students who ride it, he said.

“People in the town ride too,” Cook said. “Just to cut it (the service), that’d be bad. There’s older people who can’t drive around and they may just need to go to the grocery store. It’ll make it harder on everyone else.”

SEK-CAP is the largest provider of rural public transportation in the state of Kansas, and in 2013 was honored by the Kansas Public Transit Association with its Transit System of the Year award.

Central to the issue is a decision by the Kansas Housing Resources Corp., which manages grant funds within the state of Kansas, to modify the formula for distributing funds throughout the state.

SEK-CAP uses some of those funds to support its bus routes. The corporation’s plan will result in nearly $500,000 leaving Southeast Kansas.

“The way that we have operated in the past, state and federal funding goes through the KDOT (Kansas Department of Transportation) and they grant it to us,” said Becky Gray, director of research, planning and grants development for SEK-CAP. “They grant 70 percent of the operating costs, and we have to come up with 30 percent locally. But we fall short every year of the full 30 percent.” Much of what is the local share comes from the funding from the KHRC. The Crawford County Commission and PSU also contribute to the local match.

Two bus routes, the Pittsburg and Frontenac general public transportation routes, are facing elimination unless other funding is found. Both are on-demand services that serve nearby communities in the county. One of those does now serve rural residents in Cherokee County.

Two services funded through agreements with PSU and Girard Medical Center will not be affected, including Safe Ride, which provides a ride home for students who find themselves in potentially unsafe situations, and the medical center route, which provides non-emergency medical transportation for patients in Crawford County.

In addition, the medical center route also is available full-time for general public transports through Crawford County. Combined, the two routes make up 9 percent of rides in Crawford County.

Ronald Bryant, a student at PSU, has been using the route for more than a year. On Friday, Bryant was riding back home after working at a local restaurant.

Bryant said if the bus route wasn’t an option, “I would have to walk 12 to 13 blocks to get to work.”

Joe Pecnik, of Pittsburg, has been using the Pittsburg area route for about two years.

“I usually go to Wal-Mart,” Pecnik said, adding the bus drops him off just a few blocks from his home.

“I see a lot of regulars,” he said. “That and college students, too. There’s a lot of people that don’t have good transportation. I’d hate to see it lose funding.”

If the route changes, Pecnik said he would have to find someone else who could give him a ride, especially during inclement weather.

Pecnik said the bus has regular routes, making it convenient to use on a daily basis.

“It sure beats riding a bicycle,” he said.

Local effort

SEK-CAP is working to increase local financial support for the transit system to make up for the local match shortfall. A match of $6,500 to $7,000 per month is needed to maintain services as they have been.

 

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