The new Central Area Rural Transit System Inc. -- CARTS -- is getting closer to rolling out its rides.
"We are officially opened," Executive Director Kristin Lambert said Thursday.
The public transportation system plans to begin limited service this summer in the Kenai and Soldotna areas.
CARTS is unique in Alaska because it will offer what Lambert calls a "brokerage" rather than a bus line. The transit office's "access center" will match people needing rides with the fleet of vans and taxis already operating in the area, with an emphasis on raising efficiency and service through coordination.
"The whole idea of the access center is to utilize vehicles that are already available," she said.
The Alaska Department and Transportation and Public Facilities had some initial qualms about CARTS because the brokerage approach for transportation never has been tried before in Alaska, Lambert said.
"It is a real big challenge. But it does work elsewhere," she said.
Wichita, Kan., and an increasing number of small cities and towns in other states are using the access center approach to public transportation with success, she said.
"There is no doubt in my mind this will be the model for rural Alaska," she said.
CARTS will allow any user to hitch a low-cost ride with vehicles such as senior center vans, shared taxis or cars driven by volunteers.
According to plans, CARTS will add a shuttle van or bus traveling a loop between Kenai and Soldotna via the Kenai Spur Highway and Kalifornsky Beach Road in future years as use increases.
The nonprofit's board of directors hired Lambert as the system's first director at the end of February, and she spent the month of March opening an office on Kalifornsky Beach Road in the old bus barn.
Lambert previously worked as the vocational services coordinator of Central Peninsula Counsel-ing Services' community outreach program. She has lived on the peninsula since 1954. She had served as the facilitator for the public transportation planning task force since it began in 1998.
The informal task force included representatives from diverse groups including social services and private businesses. The task force and its hired advisers developed a public transportation plan for the central peninsula area.
In January, the task force set up CARTS, which incorporated as a nonprofit to operate the new transit system.
The public transportation project recently received a $65,370 state grant for operating costs and $45,000 from the Alaska Mental Health Trust, which includes $15,000 worth of ride vouchers to provide some subsidized travel.
CARTS also is in line for $600,000 of federal funding through a jobs access grant and welfare reduction programs.
The final copy of the public transportation plan will be complete by mid April, she said.
Lambert plans to make presentations to civic groups and negotiate 32 agreements this spring with central peninsula agencies and organizations to get CARTS on the road.
"And that is only the beginning," she said.
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