Fees for riding local public transportation buses are increasing as of July 1 when a new fare system goes into effect.
OATS, Inc., is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 corporation providing specialized transportation for senior citizens, people with disabilities and the rural general public in 87 Missouri counties. Locally, riders know the bus as TOGO.
Since 1971, OATS has provided transportation to mid-Missouri residents asking only for suggested contributions in return. Now with the beginning of a new fiscal year, OATS is implementing a new fare structure to balance the fiscal year 2014 budget. The new fare system will be effective July 1.
Rates for local round trips inside the city limits will increase from $3 to $5. Rates for round trips within Gasconade County will be $7. A trip to an adjacent county will cost an individual $9. A $7 charge will be added for each additional county a bus takes a rider beyond two counties.
A family rate has been set at $7 (in town), $9 (within county) and $10 (adjacent county). The $7 extra per county beyond two counties away also applies.
“I realize this may impose hardships for some of our riders but the OATS Mid-Missouri Region simply is no longer able to provide rides under a suggested donation policy,” wrote Jack Heusted, regional director for Mid-Missouri OATS operations which includes Gasconade County, in a recent memo to drivers which was shared with regular riders.
Heusted said a $1 rate increase was made during the past year which increase the fee from $2 to $3. Previously, rides were $1 each way.
Locally, area residents use the buses for a variety of trips including shopping, doctor’s appointments or an afternoon at the Owensville Senior Center for special parties like Valentine’s Day. Sharon Nowack, site administrator, said the center has about 11 regulars who takes rides on the TOGO bus to visit the facility.
“This is going to be tough on some of them,” she said.
With the $3.50 cost of a meal and a $5 bus fare, a city resident will pay $8 per visit to the senior nutrition center.
“Switching to a fare-based system is necessary, allowing us to stretch our state and federal dollars further,” said Heusted, “Currently rider contributions make up only 4 percent of our company’s revenue. In the last few years, OATS has seen significant cuts in state and federal funding, as well as cuts to contract-based service.”
During the 12-month period July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012, there were 375 Gasconade County residents who used the bus service.
“Transportation is a top priority for so many area residents, so a fare structure is necessary to avoid any additional route cuts and, or, service delays in the Mid-Missouri Region,” said Heusted in response to questions from The Republican about the fare increase.
The Mid-Missouri Region is comprised of 15 counties. Last year, OATS provided a total of 110,676 trips to 3,838 people in the region. A large percentage of those trips are for medical, nutrition, essential shopping and business related errands. Across Missouri, OATS provided 1.7 million rides, an increase of 6.2 percent or 99,646 rides compared to the previous year.
OATS services were used by 33,769 individuals during fiscal 2011-12. Those trips accounted for more than 16 millions transportation miles in one year.
In Gasconade County, there were 20,499 trips logged among the 375 riders. Those trips covered 205,828 miles. “Employment” accounted for 7,959 of those trips while “essential shopping” accounted for 3,232 of the one-way trips logged. There were 2,646 trips for “medical” purposes and 2,686 where “recreation” was cited for the reason.
Riders logged in 2,051 “en route stops” where a secondary stop was included in the original trip such as a pharmacy visit following a doctor’s appointment. Another 831 trips were for “business” purposes.
Of these trips, 10,586 were classified as “in town.” Another 6,187 took place within one county. Trips to an adjoining county numbered 1,113 for Gasconade County riders. There were 562 trips which went beyond an adjoining county.
Owensville aldermen on Monday approved ordinance No. 1148 for an annual one-year “agreement for services” contract with OATS. The city does not have any financial obligation for the service agreement but is administrator of $11,000 in funding provided by Hermann Area District Hospital and “other local funds” donated, or raised, to support the program in the county. The agreement covers the period July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014.
The agreement notes, “The Missouri Department of Transportation is providing half the funds for this program under their obligations for Section 5311 public transportation.”
OATS receives no federal funding for in-town Columbia since it is classified as an urban area. Federal funding does cover partial rural service, but it’s still not enough to cover 100 percent of the trips, noted Jill Stedem, administrative services director, in an October 2012 report which cited the trip logs.
OATS, Inc., is a private, non-profit transportation provider serving the elderly, disabled and others who need transportation assistance in rural areas of 87 Missouri counties. OATS is funded, in part, an allotment of federal funds from the Missouri Department of Transportation, and through contracts with Missouri Elderly and Handicapped Transportation Assistance Program (MEHTAP), private contracts, donations and rider contributions.
Locally, there has been funding support through HADH, private donations and events such as the TOGO golf tournament.
“They really are the same,” said Heusted when asked about difference, if any, between the names of the buses. “Because there’s some local funding or support, we call it something different than OATS.”
OATS has provided bus transportation for 40 years in Missouri.
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