Saturday CARTS, the Central Area Rural Transit Service Inc., celebrated the first anniversary of its ride service.
The birthday comes on the heels of another milestone for the central Kenai Peninsula's growing public transportation network.
In late August CARTS added two new handicapped-accessible minivans to its vehicle fleet, and they went into service Sept. 11. They can accommodate seven ambulatory passengers or two in wheelchairs.
"We love these vans," said CARTS executive director Kristin Lambert.
"Now it is the beginning of a new school year, and CARTS is booming," she told the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly during a Sept. 4 presentation.
The service is providing almost 3,000 rides per month and has about 700 people on its clients' list. The service is popular with people traveling to work, the handicapped and the general public.
"The need is much greater than we ever anticipated," Lambert said.
"We are doing the right thing."
CARTS, the Kenai Peninsula's first nonprofit transit system, is a community-based coordinated brokerage system involving dozens of organizations.
The transit office's "access center" matches 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.
CARTS provides door-to-door trips, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. The service area extends from Nikiski to Sterling to Kasilof, and includes the cities of Kenai and Soldotna.
Riders or their sponsors purchase punch cards in advance and pay based on how far they travel through designated map zones.
The service is paid for by riders and by government-funded programs and grants.
For example, the Kenai Peninsula Borough paid for 40 percent of the purchase price of the two new handicapped-accessible minivans.
In March a unique three-way exchange between Anchorage People Mover, Alaska Public Assistance and CARTS resulted in the acquisition of two new 13-passenger vans for the system. Those vans and the new minivans allow CARTS to better serve larger groups and handicapped residents living in rural areas.
The U.S. Senate, in the 2002 Transporta-tion Appropriations bill now in the conference committee, has earmarked $500,000 for CARTS, according to the most recent notification, Lambert said. This would be the third year that the federal funding has assisted the group.
"We are very fortunate to be on the list. We even have the possibility of getting additional funding," she said.
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