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Searching for a better means of public transportation

Staff writer

Marion resident Evelyn Jewett, who had lunch at the Marion Senior Center on Monday, said she relies on other people to drive her wherever she needs to go because she no longer has a driver’s license.

“I’m always begging a ride,” Jewett said. “I try to do as much as I can in Marion. I don’t want to impose on anyone. But I do my banking in McPherson.”

It’s not always easy to find a ride and because she always lived an active life, she doesn’t like being stuck at home, Jewett said. She no longer has the strength to walk long distances.

Marion County has locally-operated transportation services available through the county Department on Aging, however, the service has limitations. People under 60 cannot use it.

Transportation service in Marion was available to the general public prior to 2008, but a local committee of senior citizens chose to end the service when requirements for state funding got too cumbersome.

Jackie Volbrecht, a Circles of Marion County volunteer, believes transportation for the general public is “one of our biggest needs.”

People who do not own a car are in a bad spot, and those who own an inoperable car but still have the expense are even worse off, Volbrecht said.

Walking is not always possible, especially with small children or disabilities, Volbrecht said.

“Lack of transportation makes a hard life so much harder,” Volbrecht said.

Belleville and WaKeeney, each a similar size to Marion, both have public transportation services partially funded by Kansas Department of Transportation programs. Belleville’s is coordinated through Republic County’s highway department. WaKeeney administrator Hardy Howard said theirs is coordinated through the city, which pays its share through the general fund.

Quinter, with a population about half of Marion’s, operates a public transportation system that takes residents to destinations in a 90-mile radius. The community’s hospital provides the local match for the program.

In Marion, in-town trips for seniors are available for a suggested contribution of $2 and out-of-town trips for medical care are available for larger contributions according to the town being visited, said Department on Aging Coordinator Gayla Ratzlaff.

“We require a 24-hour notice,” Ratzlaff said.

That’s because volunteer drivers must be found.

Hillsboro Senior Center director Brenda Moss said her only option is to call the Department on Aging for transportation services when they can provide it.

“We don’t have anything like that in Hillsboro,” Moss said.

Moss said many Hillsboro residents call her because they need transportation services.

Even with limited transportation service available, people turn to other options. Sometimes that means family, friends, and churches.

Josh Wesner, president of Marion Ministerial Alliance and pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Marion, said that while the alliance does not have a formal program for that purpose, individual churches often step to the plate.

“It’s not a formal thing, it’s kind of a family thing, but if they need help, we try to help them out,” Wesner said.

Jane McCormick, who also had lunch at the Senior Center on Monday, said she has children living in the area who are good about taking her to out-of-town medical appointments and two friends who drive her to the Senior Center when she wants to go.

McCormick said she’s not sure if she would use a transportation service if it were available, because while she misses shopping in Salina, having someone to take her to medical appointments has “not been a problem yet.”

Jewett said she would utilize a transportation service in Marion if the fares were affordable to her.

The KDOT grant program requires a yearly application and monthly reports to maintain it.

“It’s a bear of a grant, but it’s do-able,” said Denise Whittman, who coordinates Quinter’s program. “About 70 percent of our population we transport are elderly. … We feel this is very much worth the effort.”

According to KDOT state public transportation manager Josh Powers, there are two programs available for communities. One of the two is geared more to transportation for the elderly and disabled, the other to the general public.

Applicants can be either non-profit organizations or local government units, Powers said.

KDOT provides 80 percent of the cost of vehicles and 50 percent of the cost of ongoing operations expenses, Powers said. The balance must be provided by the local program.

“This requirement to participate financially in the provision of service is typically the reason smaller communities opt not to pursue transit service,” Powers observed.

Last modified Jan. 28, 2016

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