Para-Transit Buses Carry More Riders
COLUMBIA -The city of Columbia has seen an increase in use of its Para-Transit services over the past two years. In 2012 the number of people using the service increased by 15 percent, and it increased by another nine percent in 2013.
"Day in, day out we see record days of number of rides per day," Drew Brooks of the city's transit system said.
Para-Transit rider Ruthanne Wunder said she has used the service for five or six years now, and has noticed the number of people riding the buses grow.
"When I started, there were four vans, one for each quadrant of the city, and a fifth van that kinda ran whenever they needed it," Wunder said. "Now there are nine vans [in service] and they're always busy."
Brooks attributes the increase in use to cutbacks and changes in other transportation services. He said Para-Transit is seeing more riders who used to use non-emergency transportation provided by Medicaid in the form of taxi vouchers. Several Para-Transit riders said they prefer the vans to buses because the drivers are reliable and understanding of their abilities.
Another transportation service had to reduce its services due to budget cuts last year. OATS Inc., a not-for-profit company that gives rides to the elderly, people with disabilities and the general public in rural areas, also had to cut back the number of rides it gives within city limits. OATS regional director Jack Heusted said the company had to reduce its hours after it lost funding from the Heart of Missouri United Way, and now has a small grant from Boone Electric Cooperative to give rides within the city limits.
The growing number of people using Para-Transit vans means more vehicles are on the street, putting more wear and tear on the vans. The transit office has 12 vans right now, and Brooks said sometimes nine or 10 vans are out on the street during peak usage. That means there are only a couple of extra vans if one breaks down, and Brooks said that happens a lot.
The transit office ordered six new vans to replace older vans, but since the usage has increased, it might hold on to some older vans as back up.
Additionally, transit officials said they think in August, when the city's regular buses add extra routes, people using Para-Transit services will be able to use the fixed-route buses, which are cheaper. Para-Transit costs two dollars per trip for all riders. But the city buses offer a reduced, 75-cent fare for Medicaid recipients, the elderly, and the disabled.
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