It isn’t a train, a streetcar or a bus. It’s a brand new Dodge minivan with room for four passengers or two wheelchairs and available for public transportation the end of this month.
Through a program dubbed “Outside the Bus” by Joyanna Geisler, executive director of the Independent Living Center, and operated by Ryder Transport under contract with CARTS, Central Area Rural Transit System, customers can ride for 50 percent of the usual cab fare.
“The purpose of this program is two-fold: to provide accessible transportation to the general public of Homer and to provide a lower cost transportation using cab companies for the general public of Homer,” said Geisler.
Jennifer Beckmann of CARTS, based in Soldotna, said, “The Center and South Peninsula Hospital already purchase transportation for their consumers. We are using their purchases as a match to leverage (Federal Transit Administration) rural transportation dollars to open this up to the general public.”
Purchased by and registered to CARTS, the van’s title is held by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. It is due in Homer this week and will be operated by Ryder Transport beginning Aug. 26. Fares are paid with $1, $5, $10 and $20 vouchers, which can be purchased by the public for half the amount at the Independent Living Center between the hours of 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday through Friday. The area served is not limited to the city of Homer.
“If someone lives in Anchor Point and its typically a $35 fare, then the person will just have to have that much in vouchers,” said Geisler.
Josh Cooper, owner of Ryder Transport, as well as Kostas Cab, became involved in the project after realizing there are “a whole bunch of people in wheelchairs we have to lift into our cars. A lot pay out of their own pocket. I’ve been trying to fight for wheelchair vans for years.”
Service with the new van will be augmented by Ryder Transport cabs, with only the van providing wheelchair accessibility. The company will be available to provide transportation round the clock, seven days a week.
“In the beginning two cab companies were on board through the process of planning and prioritizing the project and writing the grant for the vehicles, but after the vehicle was acquired and it came time to sign a contract, one cab company dropped out,” said Beckmann.
Vouchers used for fares will be submitted by Ryder Transport to CARTS for reimbursement. Ryder also will be responsible for maintaining and insuring the van.
If agencies in addition to The Center and the hospital participate, the amount of vouchers can be increased.
“To make it easy, it’s pretty much a 50-50 match. I need $1 to spend $1,” said Beckmann. “More agencies buying vouchers for their consumers means more money that we can leverage.”
Incorporated in 2000, CARTS is a coordinated community attempt to meet public transportation needs to an area encompassing Soldotna, Kenai, Kasilof, Sterling and Nikiski, using a pre-purchased punch-card system. Passengers must schedule their rides in advance. Its fleet includes 13-passenger vans and wheelchair-accessible minivans. CARTS has helped develop programs similar to Homer’s “Outside the Bus” in other communities.
“We have an arrangement like this with a nonprofit and they have actually got two vehicles through us,” said Beckmann. “This is kind of new ground, but it has been done in other areas, so it’s nothing really groundbreaking.”
Working out the details in Homer has, however, taken some effort.
“I’ve been here 18 months and this was underway well before I came,” said Dave Branding, CEO of The Center. “There’s a lot of complexity, a lot of collaboration, but the partners really stuck to it and I think we’re at a point where we’ll see all the work and commitment pay off. … It’s a pleasure to work in such a community where collaboration is prioritized so much.”
Although hoping another entity will take over administering the vouchers, Geisler is looking forward for the program to begin.
“It’s going to be awesome,” she said. “It has been a great collaborative effort between The Center, the hospital, CARTS, Josh Cooper and us.”
While she anticipates “Outside the Bus” will need some fine-tuning, Beckmann said, “I’m ready to get it moving.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.