The Johnston County Area Transit System has a plan to raise the number of rides it offers, but it’s going to need money.
Currently, JCATS serves most of its riders through contracts with agencies such as the Johsnton County Department of Social Services. The idea is to open the contracting process so that any group — governmental, civic, religious, commercial or otherwise — can fund bus rides for anyone it wants.
For example, the Town of Smithfield could give JCATS a pot of money earmarked for its residents, a veterans’ group could fund rides for vets, or a church could pay money to provide rides for its members.
Riders would pay $5 each way, and JCATS would track the rides to make sure groups paid only for their own riders. JCATS would then subtract the fares paid from each group’s invoice.
Also, on trips with rides from multiple groups, JCATS would spread the cost among those groups. For example, if riders from 10 groups made a 100-mile trip, JCATS would bill each group for 10 miles.
“This is an entirely new model that, as far as I know, doesn’t exist anywhere else,” said Neal Davis, director of JCATS and its parent nonprofit, Community & Senior Services of Johnston County.
At the Johnston County Commissioners’ March 6 work session, Davis explained how the program would work.
The goal is to increase the number of rides JCATS can afford to provide in Johnston. A Herald report last December noted that JCATS denies more rides than all but one of North Carolina’s 80 rural and regional transit systems. Last fiscal year, for example, JCATS denied 1,110 requests, or nearly 16 percent of the 7,081 denials statewide, according to N.C. Department of Transportation data.
Davis said JCATS would like Johnston County to “take a lead position” in expanding ridership by funding a contract in its next budget. That way, Davis said, he would have something to point to when he pitches the plan to towns and organizations.
Davis did not specify how much money he thought the county should give, but a handout he gave commissioners suggested $100,000.
The board will need more information before making a decision, Chairman Tony Braswell said, and that discussion will take place during the upcoming budget process.
“I think we’ll have a whole lot more conversation on it,” Braswell said in a March 9 phone interview. “We just can’t throw money at stuff and make it go away.”
The issue of denied rides gained attention thanks to Minnie Feaster, 60, who lives in Clayton and cannot drive because of a stroke she suffered at age 45.
When JCATS started denying many of Feaster’s ride requests last year, she began attending commissioners meetings to plead her case. In addition to attending meetings, she has gathered a petition with 104 signatures and two letters supporting her cause
Feaster attended the work session and said it answered a lot of questions.
“I’m encouraged by what Mr. Davis said, because perhaps there’s an opportunity that I can ride,” she said.
“I don’t mind paying, and I know now why I was denied.”