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McPhersonSentinel - McPherson, KS
  • Lack of public transport a struggle for some

  • Lucy Rodriguez is a single mother of six children, five of whom are in school. Her youngest children, ages 6 and 8, attend Roosevelt Elementary School for its special education program, even though it’s across town. Every day, she travels two-and-a-half miles to work. She does not have a car.
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  • Lucy Rodriguez is a single mother of six children, five of whom are in school. Her youngest children, ages 6 and 8, attend Roosevelt Elementary School for its special education program, even though it’s across town. Every day, she travels two-and-a-half miles to work. She does not have a car.
    “I have a really good support system. Without it, I don’t know where I’d be,” Rodriguez said. “My kids are 6 and 8 and can’t walk across town.”
    Rodriguez has the support of Circles of McPherson County and can coordinate rides through her friends. But for unexpected events, such as a late-night hospital visit, transportation is a challenge.
    “Sometimes it’s hard to ask for rides,” Rodriguez said. “If it’s 11 o’clock at night and you need to go somewhere. It can be hard.”
    With limited options for public transportation in McPherson, many groups have come up with their own solutions. For some, however, a lack of public transport can cause serious problems.
    “The biggest barrier for people we work with is appointments, especially for children and those who work,” said Rebecca Lewis. She is a coach with Circles of McPherson County, an organization that helps people break the cycle of poverty.
    Many people Lewis works with don’t have vehicles of their own and walk or bike where they need to go.
    “When people don’t have a reliable way to get to work, it makes it difficult to stay employed,” Lewis said. “Some people have mobility issues, which makes that a difficult choice in bad weather.”
    The city provides some subsidies for McPherson’s taxi service in the form of one-way ticket books. People older than 60 or with a disability can purchase 10 tickets for $20, or the public can purchase 20 tickets for $45.
    This subsidy is provided through a combination of city, state and federal money. In 2013, the cost to operate the program was $27,791, with about $5,000 of that coming from city funds.
    However, Lewis said this service is still too expensive for some, and some people in the Circles community have to ask others for rides.
    “It’s a solution, but it makes you dependent on someone else, which can make you feel powerless,” Lewis said.
    Lewis said there are some busses available from 9 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., but not everyone can work with that schedule.
    “The people who work until 5 or 6 in the evening, that doesn’t really help them,” Lewis said.
    Though the city is perhaps too big to walk or bike, Mayor Tom Brown said the demand isn’t big enough for the city to expand its public transport options.
    Page 2 of 2 - “The biggest barrier is the low volume of use,” Brown said. “We just don’t have the resources. We’ve looked at alternatives, and it’s just not affordable without some kind of subsidy.”
    For some, the solution has been to provide transport themselves. Doug Wisby, CEO of Multi Community Diversified Services, said MCDS has partnered with groups in McPherson and Marion counties to coordinate public transportation.
    These groups include the city of McPherson and the Council on Aging.
    “We provide two types of transportation,” Wisby said. “One type is for the frail, elderly and disabled, and one is work access. The vast majority of clients that come here to work use that system.”
    The system includes busses that charge a minimal fee based on what the user can afford. Wisby said funding comes from McPherson County and the Kansas Department of Transportation, but these funds are not enough to cover the cost of the system.
    “We pick up the rest with our own funds,” Wisby said. He was unable to provide an exact amount for how much it costs MCDS to run the program.
    Disability Supports of the Great Plains also maintains its own fleet of transport vehicles, including four minivans from KDOT. They receive some money from KDOT to cover the cost of those vehicles, as well as some other grants to fund other vehicle purchases and maintenance, but it, too, covers a part of the cost with its own funds. Specific figures were not available.
    John Zehnder, director of advocacy and policy at Disability Supports, said its system only operates for Disability Supports clients.
    “A lot of our transportation is prescheduled and specific to the needs of our clients,” Zehnder said.
    KDOT is making an effort to create regional transport systems, which could help people get from one city to another. However, this system will not be in place for some time.
    In the meantime, some will have to make do with what’s available.
    “There’s a lot of families who would benefit from public transport, even if its limited,” Lewis said.

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