Two Clayton residents who have petitioned for greater access to Johnston County’s transit system can now count on two rides per week.
At least temporarily.
Marianne Hunt, who is blind, and Minnie Feaster, who is disabled because of a stroke, have asked the nonprofit Johnston County Area Transit System to pick up more people like themselves.
Hunt, 67, and Feaster, 60, don’t qualify for Medicaid and thus aren’t guaranteed rides with JCATS. The transit system gets about 70 percent of its money through contracts with human service agencies, most with Medicaid clients.
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People like Hunt and Feaster get rides only if JCATS has enough money from other revenue sources or if their request falls along a Medicaid rider’s route. JCATS says funding cuts and an increase in demand have led the transit system to deny more non-contract requests of late, including more than 1,900 trip requests from 429 people in 2014.
After getting denied fairly often in recent months, Hunt said she was thrilled to learn that she could count on rides more often.
JCATS says it has found money in its budget to pay for rides for Hunt and Feaster every Tuesday and Thursday morning. Hunt said she’ll have to pay a dollar more both ways – $3 instead of $2 – but that’s fine with her.
A trip from her apartment in Clayton to Walmart a few miles away cost $20 by taxi, she said.
“They are doing something and not just ignoring what we are saying,” Hunt said of JCATS leaders. “I really give them credit by stepping up and helping us out.”
Neal Davis is head of the transit system’s parent agency, Community & Senior Services of Johnston County. He said cautious spending and February’s snow and ice, which forced JCATS to suspend service a number of days, had given him some budget wiggle room.
“It’s kind of a short-term thing,” Davis said. “When it gets to June 30, we’ll see where we are.”
While Hunt and Feaster are two of the most consistent JCATS callers, Davis said the available dollars can pay for rides for anyone by June 30.
Community & Senior Services gets a grant that pays for rides for the elderly and disabled. JCATS also receives a grant that funds trips for the rural general public.
While JCATS gets enough money from human service agencies to cover rides for their clients, the system receives far fewer dollars in grants for the general public.
The pot of money for rural general public rides shrank even more this fiscal year, when the state reduced a grant allocation for Johnston County by about $40,000. Davis said part of the problem last year was that JCATS planned for more public ride money than what actually came in.
He doesn’t know how much money is coming in for public rides next year. “They’ve told us to brace for more cuts,” he said.
Since JCATS can’t count on state grant funding, Davis has proposed opening up the contracting process to governmental, civic, religious and commercial groups.
Under the proposal, the Town of Clayton, for instance, could contract with JCATS as human service agencies currently do. The town would set its own policies on who could ride and give JCATS a pot of money to help pay for those trips.
Davis said each contracting agency would get a monthly report on how JCATS spent its money and who received rides. That’s something the transit system already does, he said.
“One of the push-backs is the towns in particular don’t want to put money into a program where they can’t control how much will be spent,” Davis said.
“With this proposal, the Town of Clayton can actually earmark exactly what they are willing to spend their money on, who can ride, what their type of transportation can and can’t be, and we will set up an account code to fulfill that criteria.”
The caveat is that more contracts will likely require more equipment and staff for JCATS.
“We know we can certainly at least get back to where we were before these ... cuts were handed to us,” Davis said.
More than 100 people signed a petition that Hunt and Feaster circulated and brought before the Johnston County Board of Commissioners and the Clayton Town Council.
Hunt said she’s thrilled the community’s actions are making a difference.
“They really seem like they are working on it,” Hunt said. “They say they are going to work on it even more.”
Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104