CARTS makes changes to program

Posted: Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Central Kenai Peninsula residents may find getting around a little more difficult in coming months, but not because of the weather.

After a year of service, Central Area Rural Transit System Inc. (CARTS), the transportation brokerage that provides affordable rides around the area, is evaluating and revamping some of its services.

"We're trying to figure out how many people we serve and what makes the most sense," said CARTS Executive Director Kristin Lambert.

CARTS already has eliminated reduced-priced rides for working parents taking their children to day care. Parents now will be charged a $2 punch per zone -- the normal rate for all other rides -- rather than the single punch per trip that they were paying before. Children under 6, accompanied by an adult, will continue to ride for free.

"There were some abuses in the system," Lambert said, explaining that some clients were taking children to Soldotna and even Sterling for day care while living and working in Kenai or Nikiski.

She said the price change will not affect most people who live, work and use day care within a single zone.

The company also will cutback its operation hours starting Friday. Service will be limited from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for rides to and from work.

CARTS was paying full cab fares to provide evening and weekend transportation, while charging riders just a fraction of the cost.

Limiting the hours of operation will save the organization money while letting it focus on more specific goals.

Forty percent of all CARTS trips involve taking people to and from jobs, and almost all the organization's funding is for employment transportation, Lambert said. She said she sees the organization as crucial in the economic well-being of the central peninsula.

"We look to a community to make jobs," Lambert said. "But part of economic development is keeping people in jobs."

Finally, unless community funding is found by March 1, CARTS will discontinue its free kindergarten transportation service.

"That's the one that hurts," Lambert said. "We are very fond of the program, but we just can't keep doing it for free."

Lambert explained that the state reimburses school districts for transportation for full-day students. Schools cannot afford to run buses at midday for kindergarten students who only attend class half days.

Many families, she said, had trouble keeping their children in kindergarten because they could not provide transportation.

Last year, the free kindergarten transportation service was funded by a private grant. This year, however, CARTS did not receive the grant.

The kindergarten transportation program will cost about $21,000 to continue through the end of the school year, Lambert said. Only half of that needs to come from the community, though.

The transportation appropriations bill signed by President George W. Bush earmarked $500,000 of matching funds for CARTS, meaning funds raised locally will be matched by the government.

"We're fortunate because we have a lot of federal and state support," Lambert said. "Now we need to work on local support."

Love INC (In the Name of Christ), an agency that matches churches with community needs, is trying to find corporate and church sponsors for the kindergarten program before the cutoff date.

CARTS also is continuing to apply for grants to fund its operation and will seek borough and city funds again soon.

CARTS, a nonprofit organization formed by concerned citizens and social service agencies to help central peninsula people with transportation problems, began operation in October 2000. The organization coordinates door-to-door rides with vans, taxis and volunteer drivers. Rides cost $2 per zone on a prepaid punch card.

"We have definitely proven the need," Lambert said. "We never dreamed we'd have over 3,000 trips in the first year."

CARTS actually provided more than 21,000 rides to 1,050 passengers in 2001.

"It's very exciting that we're just doing an incredible amount," she said. "We're only making changes because we know we can't do everything."

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