How do some areas in Indiana tackle rural transit?
The Area 10 Agency focuses on care for seniors, persons with disabilities and family caregivers. Their transit program is open to the general public.
The agency serves four rural counties with its rural public transit program: Putnam, Owen, Lawrence and Monroe.
Chris Myers is the executive director of the agency. She said the service is demand-based and residents can request rides for any purpose.
“We have people who use this transportation system for work, for after-school care, for shopping, for social activities, for all kinds of things like school, but not just medical appointments,” she said.
She added there will likely be an option to request rides online within the next year but that for now, residents must call the agency directly to schedule rides.
Lisa Salyers is the assistant transit manager at the agency. She said residents should request rides in advance.
“We request that they call us three to five days in advance,” she said. “It's first come, first serve.”
Salyers said drivers for the program tend to be people who are retired from their full-time jobs. She added the process to hire drivers can be lengthy.
“It takes usually three solid days to get through all of the training,” she said. “And then there's still sporadic training that happens in the first six months that they're here. They're trained on wheelchair securement defensive driving drugs and alcohol, etc.”
Myers added the pandemic impacted the way the program operates and also led to a lack of drivers.
“An immediate need is for us to fill the seats with drivers,” she said. “And, unfortunately, because we are limited revenue, because of the grant and the way things go, we can't compete with businesses out there with how we pay drivers.”
The program is primarily funded through Section 5311, rural transit funding that requires a 50% match. Community partners and county governments also provide funding for the program.
Myers said they also use advertisements, such as bus wraps, to draw in funding.
Another drawback the program faces is lack of operable vehicles.
“We have eight buses sitting out in our parking lot right now that are inoperable, and have not been able to be replaced,” she said. “And we've had them on a list for at least two years, with some federal matching funds to help with that. And we haven't been able to get them from the state's qualified purchase agreement supplier up at Midwest transit.”
Myers is confident that the program still helps rural residents. She says the affordability of the program makes it viable for individuals who are looking to travel for cheap.
The fare is $3 each way per county. This means if residents stay within one county, they pay $3. If they go from one county to another, it will be $6 each way. Residents can call the agency directly to schedule these rides.
Myers added that another unmet need she’d like to see addressed in the future is long-distance driving.
“That is definitely a missing link, in our service area, is finding a volunteer corps of people who would be willing to drive for some of those unmet needs,” she said.
She said their agency would be unable to house a volunteer group for this purpose due to insurance restrictions, but that she hopes other community organizations may consider taking this idea into account.