The new Central Area Rural Transit System -- popularly known as CARTS -- means more than just an affordable ride.
It's the ticket to freedom.
For some, it's the key to joining the work force or getting to classes -- whether it be to kindergarten or Kenai Peninsula College. For others, it's the answer to being able to get to a doctor's appointment, the grocery story or to some much-needed recreation. For those who just hate to drive, it's a way to leave the car parked and still get where they're going.
For everyone living on the central Kenai Peninsula, it has the potential to be one more ingredient that adds to our quality of life.
If you've ever been without a car for even a day, you know the central peninsula is no place to live without wheels.
Vast distances make walking impractical and taxi fares high. Ice and snow during much of the year make short jaunts difficult -- impossible for some. Winter weather presents driving challenges even for those who have transportation, but no covered parking. Scraping windows is a hassle for the most able-bodied among us; it can become a major obstacle to using one's vehicle if you're unable to scrape those windows.
There's a need for reliable transportation in all social and economic circles. The independence which Alaskans value so highly just isn't possible without it.
That's why CARTS, which began offering rides on Monday, is so important.
It gives people transportation options. In fact, CARTS is a whole new way of looking at public transportation. Instead of providing a bus system, CARTS is a brokerage service -- matching people with the rides they need. Those rides are being offered with vehicles that already are available, including taxis, public agency vans and volunteer vehicles.
The emphasis is on coordinated, safe, customer service. Every driver has undergone a drug test and criminal record check. Their driving record has been examined. Each vehicle has had a safety check.
Service is provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but people must call the day before to arrange a ride, or on Friday to arrange weekend or Monday transportation. People must have a punch card, and family punch cards are available. Travel within one "zone" is $2.50. A ride from the Kenai Senior Center to Central Peninsula General Hospital, for example, would encompass three zones and cost three punches -- or $7.50. Clients in the Welfare-to-Work program and some other state programs are supplied punch cards through the various programs. Some businesses are looking at buying punch cards for those who are unable to afford them on their own. Groups looking for a community-service project also can buy punch cards for specific user groups.
CARTS remains a work in progress. That it's rolling at all is evidence of the perseverance and thousands of hours of hard work by scores of volunteers. CARTS has brought together dozens of agencies whose clients are in need of reliable, affordable transportation and businesses and volunteers who know there's a need for public transportation in the central peninsula.
Public transportation is good for the entire community. It opens up a whole new world to those who might otherwise be confined to their homes. Their participation in the life of the community makes it a more vibrant place to live.
Because public transportation does contribute to the health of the community, it's important that local governments support it.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly recently agreed to give $50,000 to CARTS; Soldotna has contributed $5,000; we look forward to Kenai following suit. CARTS also has received funding from the Federal Transit Administration, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, the Alaska Mental Health Trust and the Alaska Division of Public Assistance.
As the system continues to operate, we hope it will inspire residents to look at their own driving habits. Can they offer someone a ride to work? Will a car pool work at their place of business? Could someone use a ride to the grocery store? The possibilities are endless.
CARTS has the potential to change the face of life on the peninsula -- not with big buses, but with a coordinated system of rides that help residents maintain their independence.
Hats off to all those who have gotten the wheels of public transportation rolling on the peninsula by realizing there's more than one way to get from point A to point B. We're looking forward to CARTS becoming a new model for getting around.
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Punch cards can be purchased at CARTS, 43530 K-Beach Road, in the old bus barn. To schedule a ride or volunteer to help, call 262-8900 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Volunteer drivers are reimbursed mileage.
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