Progress, slow but sure, in affordable transportation

May 28, 2019

It’s been about five years since the organization of the Kenai Peninsula Transportation Task Force, which seeks to ease travel around our spread-out borough, especially for those with no other means.

During last week’s KDLL fundraiser, Sherri Connor of Central Peninsula Hospital discussed the task force. 

“It is a group of community members and local organizations, mostly nonprofit organizations, and medical care organizations that are working to improve and enhance our current transportation that we have for public transportation in our community,” she said.

Connor said that every survey for the past decade has identified a lack of transportation as the number one barrier for access to services.

“(At) my job at (CPH) Behavioral Health, I saw that we had a lot of clients that just didn't have any form of transportation and weren't able to navigate the system that's currently in place for public transportation of CARTS. It's not a traditional bus route. It's a lot of planning involved in being organized and, you know, my clients just were not able to access that service very well,” Connor said. “And so we started looking about; was that a barrier to other people and other organizations and, and we all started coming together and meeting and saw that it it was and maybe looking at doing some changes and how we traditionally provided in our community.”

The task force fell short this year in attracting enough matching funds to pay for a transportation needs study, even though, as Connor says, there is money available.

“You know, there is money in our community for public transportation,” she said. “I think we've used it in a specific way for a long time because we're worried about those ridership numbers. Who will use it? Who's going to support it? How do we sustain that program once it comes on board? But I think as a community, we are also paying a larger price for those that can't get to work, that can't get to health care, that can't actually get out and socialize. All of those things are what keep our community growing.“

According to Connor, an “ideal” bus system would have several busses or vans circulate between the Twin Cities all day, as other vehicles make once- or twice-a-day trips to the outlying communities.

Currently in the area there is the Central Area Rural Transit System, or CARTS, the Ninilchik Tribal Council’s BUMPS, or Basic Unified Multi-Path Service, and a taxi cab voucher system administered by the Independent Living Center.

“Vouchers can be used for anything. They don't say you can't go one place (or) that has to be used as strictly for one item. So it's a great program that's through the Independent Living Center,” Connor said. “They were just refunded. They'll have vouchers available July 1. Last year, they had about 225 people use that voucher program. And their funding was actually increased for this next fiscal year, so they're looking at about being able to provide about 10,000 rides.”

The best thing about those rides is that with the voucher, the out-of-pocket expense is only $3 per ride. Connor encourages anyone interested in that program contact the Independent Living Center before July 1.

Our conversation with Connor is available here for those who missed it during the fundraiser.