Clayton News-Star

Petition seeks JCATS changes

Gaile DeTellem sits on the front porch of her Clayton home . DeTellem, who is bound to a wheelchair, said she often has a hard time scheduling trips through the Johnston County Area Transit System.
Gaile DeTellem sits on the front porch of her Clayton home . DeTellem, who is bound to a wheelchair, said she often has a hard time scheduling trips through the Johnston County Area Transit System. ndunn@newsobserver.com

A Clayton resident who has been denied rides on the Johnston County Area Transit System is asking others to join her call for change.

Minnie Feaster, 60, who can’t drive because of a stroke, is circulating a petition asking county leaders and the Clayton Town Council to “take action necessary” to help the nonprofit transit system accept more ride requests.

Unlike transit systems in urban areas, JCATS does not operate fixed, circulating bus routes. Instead, it maps routes daily based largely on where it will pick up and drop off Medicaid patients, who make up the transit system’s largest clientele.

People who qualify for Medicaid typically schedule their trips through human service agencies, whose contracts make up nearly 70 percent of JCATS budget.

People who don’t qualify for Medicaid, such as Feaster, get rides only if JCATS has enough money from other revenue sources or if their ride requests fall along that day’s JCATS route.

JCATS says funding cuts and an increase in demand have led the transit system to deny more non-contract requests as of late, including more than 1,900 trip requests from 429 people in 2014.

Feaster’s petition seeks changes that would allow JCATS to provide the same service riders received before the funding cuts.

Clayton resident Gaile DeTellem, 71, plans to sign the petition. DeTellem, who is bound to a wheelchair, doesn’t have any family or friends to give her a ride to her doctor in Smithfield. She has counted on about two rides per month from JCATS. Beyond that, she said, the transit system often tells her no.

“They say, ‘We don’t have funds,’ ” DeTellem said.

Last month, after JCATS said it couldn’t give her a ride, DeTellem used a private medical-transit service that charged her $90 for the round-trip from Clayton to Smithfield.

With state grant funding for general public rides, Community and Senior Services of Johnston County – the parent agency of JCATS – typically pays for DeTellem’s two rides per month. She doesn’t pay a fare; however, DeTellem said she would be willing to pay upward of $20 if it meant she could get a ride.

“That, compared to what it costs me to have a private company take me, is a lot less,” DeTellem said.

While each round trip costs JCATS about $17, the transit system charges riders just $2 each way. Last fiscal year, despite ranking 10th statewide in general public rides, JCATS fare receipts ranked just 44th highest.

DeTellem’s sister, Mickey Hanselman of Cincinnati, said her sister has worked hard to be independent since she was paralyzed during surgery after suffering an aortic aneurysm in 2013.

“She’s not on Medicaid,” Hanselman said. “She doesn’t want to be a burden on the system.”

Last month, Feaster and her Clayton neighbor, Marianne Hunt, a 67-year-old woman who is blind, took their concerns about JCATS to the Johnston County Board of Commissioners. At the time, board chairman Tony Braswell said he would work with JCATS to learn more about its shortfall and help develop a solution.

While the county does not operate JCATS, commissioners do chip in about $80,000 of the transit system’s $2.7 million annual budget.

To learn more, or to sign the petition, write to Feaster at P.O. Box 1325, Clayton, N.C. 27528.

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